The news of the COVID-19 vaccine being administered has been grabbing headlines of newspapers across the globe. While that deserves to be cheered, there seems to be yet another strain of the novel coronavirus in the United Kingdom that is causing worry.
Here’s what you ought to know
- A new variant of coronavirus has been found which is spreading in some parts of England.
- The mutations include changes to the important “spike” protein that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses to infect human cells.
- This new strain is said to have been discovered in South England on 20 September 2020 and is being called VUI 202012/01 by scientists.
- The sudden spike in the number of cases in the UK is likely to be linked to this new strain.
- According to retired doctor Mohan Gupte, founder-director ICMR Epidemiology department Chennai, said in an interview with India Today, “This new variant is showing some 17 changes in the genome, this is a very large change. Due to this change, the transmissibility of this virus has also changed and is 70 per cent more infectious compared to the earlier variant.”
- This is not the only mutation that has been found in the novel coronavirus. An article by the BBC states that the vaccines being developed “train the immune system” to attack several different parts of the virus, giving us reasons to believe that there will still be a cure. However, experts believe that the virus will also be able to generate “vaccine escape mutants”.
MK LHL testing data showing increasing prevalence of H69/V70 variant in positive test data – which is detected incidentally by the commonly used 3-gene PCR test. pic.twitter.com/1U0pVR9Bhs
— Tony Cox (@The_Soup_Dragon) December 19, 2020
Is India at risk?
Given that the new strain has just been discovered, to conclusively say whether or not it will impact India is difficult at this stage. Dr Gupte says, “The virus (new Covid-19 variant) will definitely come over to India, if it has not already, because the contact rate within the globe is very large.”
However, Dr Gupte is also of the opinion that the new novel coronavirus strain will not adversely impact India. “I feel chances of India getting a (higher) number of cases like the UK is very low,” he said in an interview with India Today on 21 December. Dr Rakesh Mishra, Director, CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, in an interview with MoneyControl on 18 December, said, “We are watching out for mutations as they are constantly happening. For the moment, it is not something to be worried about and is restricted to a few countries.”
The Union Health Ministry has called for an emergency meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) to understand this new strain better. The JMG will be chaired by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS), and Dr Roderico H Ofrin, India’s representative from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) will participate in the meeting.
This is a developing story and will be updated as and when new information emerges.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)