The fast-spreading COVID-19 mutation identified in the United Kingdom has not been detected in India so far, Dr VK Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog informed at the press briefing on Tuesday, 22 December.
He added that while this variant is believed to increase transmissibility, there is no evidence that it causes more severe disease, increased risk of death or a rise in hospitalizations.
"As per the information available from the UK where the mutated variant was detected, it does not increase the severity of the disease, deaths and rate of hospitalisation. Besides, the studies also suggest that the available vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 are effective on the mutated strain as well," he said, reported IANS.
“There is no need to panic. As of now, based on our discussions, deep understanding of the data available, and on talks with the scientists in UK and colleagues in WHO, there seems to be no cause for concern. But is it a cause for us to be more vigilant? Of course, yes, because the battle against COVID-19 is yet to be won.”Dr VK Paul
The news of a recently identified and possibly more contagious variant of the coronavirus discovered in the United Kingdom has raised alarm across the world, leading to lockdown in parts of England and travel restrictions imposed by several countries, including India.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock cautioned that the variant was ‘out of control’, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new variant ‘may be up to 70 percent more transmissible’.
Apart from the temporary halt on flights from the UK, India has also taken other measures to be cautious and prepared, one of which is to fast-track and prioritise genome sequencing of recently collected virus samples to determine if the Covid patients are carrying the new mutation.
“We had been conducting genome sequencing even before this, but now we will speed up the process and make it more comprehensive,” Dr Paul said.
Importantly, he also put at rest fears over the efficacy of the vaccines that are currently in development (or in use in certain countries) in face of the new variant.
“As of now, it has no impact on the potential of the emerging vaccines being developed in our country and are available in other countries.”Dr VK Paul
Vaccines produce a broad antibody response to the virus, and experts from around the world have said there is a high possibility that these vaccines will work on most mutations.
The novel coronavirus is a single strand RNA virus, and mutations are a normal rather than an exception in such viruses, virologists have previously told FIT.
The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry has asked state governments to send the samples of the passengers who tested positive on arrival from the UK to National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune or any other appropriate lab for genomic sequencing study, reported IANS.
(With inputs from IANS)