The mutant B1.1.7 COVID-19 virus strain that has now paralysed major parts of the United Kingdom, is suspected to be already present in Karnataka. Experts believe that the new Coronavirus strain, which is 70% more contagious and severe than the original variant, might have entered India through the numerous international flights from UK to Bengaluru.
How has the new Coronavirus strain affected UK?
The mutated strain of COVID-19 was first identified in the UK in September. Within the next three months, there has been an alarming rise in the number of cases involving this new strain. The SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 strain has infected more than 1,100 individuals in the country by now. Preliminary research reveals that the new Coronavirus strain transmits faster and more easily. However, no concrete evidence has been established that shows that the strain increases the intensity of sickness.
After UK declared their surge in COVID-19 cases with the new strain, over 40 nations across the world have suspended transport connections with the country, including India.
Last month, UK government authorised the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for mass-scale inoculation. With the discovery of the new strain, there is now a rising concern if the vaccines will be effective against the mutant virus. Researchers are claiming that the mRNA vaccines will possibly work against the new COVID-19 virus strain as well, but further research needs to be done before this can be proven with certainty.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the presence of another highly infectious COVID-19 virus strain has been diagnosed in a few individuals. Originating from South Africa, this strain with a higher rate of transmissibility has entered the country through travellers from South Africa.
Is there any infection in India?
India is witnessing a remarkable decline in COVID-19 infections since November. To protect against the mutant virus strain, flights have been suspended to and fro from the UK till December 31, which might be extended further depending on the situation.
However, a few patients with the ‘superspreader’ strain infection is suspected to have carried the virus from UK to India in the flights operating before suspension. On Tuesday, NITI Aayog Member (Health) Dr V K Paul addressed a press conference where he acknowledged the Indian government’s precautionary measure to suppress the advent of the mutant strain in India.
Terming the strain as a ‘superspreader’, Dr Paul assured that the virus is yet to make inroads into India and our vigilant efforts in social distancing can prevent a surge in infections. He also added that though the new virus strain is 70% more transmissible, it has not shown any increase in the severity of infection.
How many people travelled from UK to Bengaluru in December?
However, despite the NITI Aayog’s assurance, scientists in Bengaluru are presuming that the mutant strain might already have arrived in India. Speaking with Deccan Herald, a veteran genomic scientist has remarked, “It is very possible that it is already here. There have been a lot of flights between the countries since September.”
Reportedly, till the suspension on December 21, there were six flights from London every week arriving at Bengaluru airport. In December itself, around 3,107 passengers have returned to Karnataka from the UK. It is quite likely that the new strain might have travelled to India through them.
Epidemiologist Dr Giridhar Babu has ascertained that more can be said about the nature of the mutant strain only after another two weeks, with more in-depth research about its nature of infection. At present, blood samples have been collected from recent fliers from UK and are being analysed at NIMHANS.
To prevent another surge in COVID-19 infection, Karnataka government had banned Christmas and New Year celebrations in the city. Following in the footsteps of Maharashtra, the government had issued a night curfew across Karnataka that was supposed to last till January 2. However, amid huge public outcry, the night curfew was evoked in a meeting today.