What has happened?
- Hours after South African authorities announced they had detected a new variant of the novel coronavirus with a “very unusual constellation” of mutations,
- The Union Health Ministry on Thursday directed states to rigorously screen and test travellers coming from or transiting through three countries in which the variant had been confirmed — South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to convene an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the potentially rapidly spreading coronavirus strain that might make vaccines less effective and scuttle efforts to fight the pandemic.
- The WHO said it is “closely monitoring” the reported coronavirus variant and will determine if it should be designated a variant of “interest” or of “concern“ in the technical meeting on Friday.
About the new variant
- Scientists in South Africa said on Thursday they have detected a new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations, adding
- it was responsible for a surge in infections.
- Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions at two South African universities, said at a briefing on Thursday that,
- The new discovery, called B.1.1529, carries an unusually large number of mutations and is “clearly very different” from previous variants.
- The government-run National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said 22 positive cases of the new variant have been recorded in the country.
- The NICD said the number of detected cases and the percentage testing positive are “increasing quickly“ in three of the country’s provinces.
- Scientists have said that many of the mutations indicate its high transmissibility and resistance to vaccines, the strain has more changes in the spike protein than all other Covid-19 variants.
- The UK Health Security Agency has said the coronavirus variant has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that Covid-19 vaccines are based on.
- The agency has declared variant B.1.1.529 a Variant under Investigation (VuI).
- “This is the most significant variant we have encountered to date and urgent research is underway to learn more about its transmissibility, severity and vaccine-susceptibility,“
- UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harries said.
UK bans flight
- UK officials announced that six African countries will be added to England’s travel “red list” after the UK Health Security
- Agency flagged concern over the variant.
- Israel also banned travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini due to the new variant.
- Hong Kong confirmed two cases of the new Covid variant, one of the cases was a traveller arriving in Hong Kong from South Africa.
- The findings come as several European countries battle a renewed surge in Covid-19 case numbers, with hospitals in some German cities starting to feel the strain.
- Governments are considering a fresh round of restrictions, largely against the unvaccinated, to try and curb the spread.
- One key difference is that while European countries have broadly got vaccination levels to a healthy majority and have moved on to booster shots, only about 35% of South African adults are fully inoculated.
- The rest of Africa is in an even worse position, with only 6.6% of the continent’s population fully vaccinated.
What about India?
- In India, Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Thursday wrote to all states and Union territories to start,
- “Rigorous screening and testing” of all international travellers coming from or transiting through Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong.
- “lt is critical for the States/UTs to adhere to the overarching ‘Test-TrackTreat-Vaccinate’ principle to ensure stringent implementation of containment measures as per Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines,” said the letter.
Q) An effective hand sanitizer contains at least what percentage of alcohol to kill the coronavirus and other germs?