Just a few days before India had recorded Covid-19 active caseload to be at 2.89 Lakh, which is 2.86 per cent of the total positive cases, a discovery of a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus) which is believed to transmit faster than the previous one was announced in the United Kingdom.
The new variant, called ‘VUI – 202012/01’ (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020), of the virus was identified by UK’s Public Health England (PHE). According to PHE, as on December 13, there were around 1108 cases of this new strain recorded, primarily in South and East of London. The new strain was discovered back in September, but made headlines on December 14 as it was associated with a substantial rise in number of cases in the above mentioned areas.
“We are investigating a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, predominantly in Kent and the surrounding areas. It is not unexpected that the virus should evolve, and it’s important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk any variant may pose. There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography especially where there are increased cases being detected,” said PHE Joint Medical Advisor, Dr Susan Hopkins.
Resultantly, the UK PM, Boris Johnson, who is scheduled for an important visit to India in 5 weeks’ time, announced a Tier 4: ‘Stay at Home’ alert level in large parts of South East England, putting more stringent restrictions on the residents.
Moreover, India has suspended flight operations from the UK till 11:59 PM, December 31, and is tracking and testing passengers that have travelled to India from the UK before the flight suspension.
Due to the announcement about the new mutation, a certain level of fear is there to be seen in the masses, and this fear related to the misinformation about the same. Therefore, we would like to talk about the new variant, so that our readers can be well informed and take precautionary measures.
Here is all you need to know about the VUI – 202012/01:-
It is common for viruses to undertake mutations, and new variants appear frequently. Virus like seasonal influenza mutates every year. Moreover, variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been observed in other countries, such as Spain. Therefore, No! This is not the first time that this virus has been mutated.
Because there was a large increase in the number of positive cases recorded in Kent and London, and PHE propounded that this variant can be the reason for that sudden spike, that is why this variant is believed to be more transmissible than the previous one.
“There is no current evidence to suggest (that) the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is underway to confirm this,” said Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty. So, there is no evidence right now to suggest that the new variation is more severe or dangerous.
This variant appeared in September, according to the backwards tracing using the genetic evidence done by the UK Health Department. It circulated slowly until mid-November. While examining why infection rates in Kent were not falling despite national restrictions, PHE came to the conclusion that the increase in cases is linked to the new variant.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that the vaccines would not protect people against the new variant, but further laboratory work is currently going on as a priority to be sure.
Labs in the UK have been issued with guidance to adapt processes to ensure that PCR tests can detect this variant. PCR tests can be adapted rapidly to respond to the new variant.
After cancelling around 70 flights from the UK, India has prepared a set of guidelines which pertain to the treatment of passengers who have arrived from the UK before suspension of the air services. Travellers from the UK who have reached India between November 25 and December 8 will be contacted by district surveillance officers, and will be advised to self-monitor their health. If anyone among them develops symptoms, the person will undergo an RT-PCR test.
All the contacts of those passengers who have flown to various Indian airports on December 21 and 22, and have tested positive would also be subjected to institutional quarantine in separate quarantine locations, and would be tested as per the ICMR guidelines. Co-passengers seated in the same row, three rows in front, and three rows behind along with identified cabin crew will be treated as the contacts of the suspect traveller.
The list of travellers who are found RT-PCR negative at airport testing shall be shared with the respective states by the central unit of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP). They shall be advised for quarantine at home and tested as per the ICMR guidelines.
In conclusion, the practices to prevent yourself from getting contracted with the virus, both old and new variants, are still the same. Therefore, practice social distancing, keep wearing face masks, and wash your hands regularly.