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Here’s What Experts Know About The New COVID-19 Variant B.1.1.529 So Far

India has called for rigorous screening and testing of fliers coming from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana

Here’s What Experts Know About The New COVID-19 Variant B.1.1.529 So Far
The cases of new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529 have been reported in Hong Kong & Botswana along with South Africa
Highlights
  • The new Coronavirus variant B.1.1.529 was first identified in South Africa
  • The new variant is said to have over 50 mutations
  • Latest models suggest B.1.1.529 could be as much as 500% more infectious

New Delhi: A new coronavirus variant – B.1.1.529 – has been reported in South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana. The variant is said to have a large number of mutations. Explaining its implication during a media briefing on November 25, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead said, “When you have so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves. Right now, researchers are getting together to understand where these mutations are and what that potentially may mean for our diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. The more this virus circulates the more opportunities the virus has to change, the more mutations we will see.”

Also Read: Fall In COVID-19 Testing In India Worries Authorities

The TAG Virus Evolution working group will discuss if it will become a variant of interest or a variant of concern and accordingly, WHO we will assign it a Greek name.

Amid the rising concerns, India on Thursday called for rigorous screening and testing of fliers coming from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. In a letter to states and union territories, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said,

This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel.

Five Things To Know About New Coronavirus Variant

1. The new variant of COVID-19 was first identified in South Africa, the strain has spread to nearby countries where fully vaccinated people have been infected.

2. According to a Twitter thread by Eric Feigl-Ding, Epidemiologist and health economist, a traveler from South Africa flew to Hong Kong with a new variant but wasn’t discovered until the fourth day of quarantine on the second PCR. Another guest across the hallway got cross-infected. Importantly, both were vaccinated and reported high viral load. He added, “It’s very airborne. The hotel guests were in different rooms across the hallway from each other. Environmental samples found the virus in 25 of 87 swabs across both rooms.”

Also Read: COVID-19 Explainer: Delta Variant Dominates The World, But Scientists Watch For Worrisome Offspring

3. In a media briefing Prof de Oliveira, Director, Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation (CERI), South Africa said there were 50 mutations overall and more than 30 on the spike protein, which is the target of most vaccines and the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway into our body’s cells.

4. There are also 10 mutations on the receptor binding domain part of the variant compared to two for the Delta variant. The receptor binding domain is the part that makes first contact with our body’s cells. The Delta Plus that mutated from the Delta variant was characterised by the K417N mutation on the spike protein; this has been linked to immune escape, but it is unclear if this is among the mutations in B.1.1.529.

5. “Latest models suggest #B11529 could be as much as 500 per cent more infectious. That is indescribably bad,” wrote Dr Ding.

Also Read: Children Under Five Exempted From COVID-19 Testing While Travelling To India: Health Ministry

Here’s What Experts Have To Say

Talking to NDTV about the new Coronavirus variant, Dr Hemant Deshmukh, Dean, KEM Hospital said,

The spike protein is dramatically different from the previous strains or the previous COVID virus as a result of which the virus is likely to mutate a lot of times. The COVID-19 variant can be designated as a variant of interest or a variant of concern. Probably, right now, it is a variant under investigation meaning the samples of people who have tested positive for this variant will be sent for genome sequencing. Learnings from genome sequencing will have a profound impact on the amount of testing, tracing and surveillance that would be required in the public health domain. Now, this variant can only be eliminated by testing and tracking.

The worry is that the COVID B.1.1.529 or Nu variant could also affect those who have already been vaccinated. Elaborating on the same, Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital said,

It is being speculated that the variant could have immune escape phenomena and even if you are vaccinated, this disease can infect you. Obviously, there are still quite a few holes in the knowledge about this variant but what can be speculated is whether it can be more serious and transmissible. Even in vaccinated people, it can infect a large number of people that’s what we have seen in South Africa.

Also Read: COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Required If Virus Gets Mutated: Bharat Biotech’s Chairman

Already there has been a push that there is a need for a booster dose of vaccine. Does the emergence of a new variant and its escaping immunity make a case for a booster dose? Answering the same, Dr Suneela Garg, Member, Lancet Commission said,

In South Africa, almost 41 per cent of the population has received the first dose and over 30 per cent has received two doses. They are thinking of expediting their vaccine pace with regard to two doses. Similar is the case in the Indian context where approximately 83 per cent of the eligible population has been vaccinated with one dose and over 43 per cent have got two doses. The need of the hour is to quickly vaccinate everybody with two doses of vaccine and then we should think about our evolving vaccination strategy and boosters. As of now, we are seeing low infections because we had a lot of natural infections and over 119 crore of vaccine doses have been administered.

Dr Garg further stressed on the need to continue practising COVID appropriate behaviour that is masking, social distancing and handwashing. Dr Garg added,

The viruses will come and go but they have to find a susceptible host and a susceptible host will not be there if all of us are protected either through vaccination that too two doses and secondly, via natural immunity which we had in good numbers.

Dr Garg said that we cannot predict the course of the infection – it could either turn towards endemicity or we could have pockets of high infections. Hence, we can’t let our guard down and need to be vigilant with regard to genome sequencing also.

Reiterating Dr Garg’s opinion, Dr Deshmukh said,

Since the spike protein is different, I don’t think the vaccine is going to help. Universal masking and social distancing are going to be probably of paramount importance in 2022.

Also Read: Mix-and-match Vaccines Highly Effective Against COVID-19: Lancet Study

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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