As the concerns around the new coronavirus strain increase, the question mark on safety and public health in India is back. Questions like is the new variant resistant to two doses of vaccination or not are being mulled by everyone? Is a booster dose required or not? So what all do we know about the new strain and what actions are being taken in India?
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has sent letters to states and union territories as the news of a new variant of the coronavirus has been discovered by the South African scientists. This letter comes a week after the country resumed issuing tourist visas to international travellers.
The guidelines were sent to the states and UTs to deal with the new variant while calling it a "very unusual constellation" of mutation. The variant is called B.1.1.529 and originated from a land-locked country in the southern part of the African continent, Botswana. Confirmed cases of the new variants have been found in South Africa and Hong Kong as well.
Not just the Ministry, but scientists and doctors too are concerned about this new variant. Reportedly, it is possible that the new variant may evade immunity and can affect those who are vaccinated. Bringing the discussion on a booster shot back. This is not confirmed by the scientists or the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as we are in early stages of understanding the variant.
Dr Suranjit Chatterjee of Apollo Hospitals in an interview with NDTV said, "What is being speculated is that it can have immune escape phenomenon and even if you are vaccinated this disease can affect you. There are quite a few holes and we need to study them carefully. So it is very important that when new strains come in we be more careful. Because if it can infect a large number of vaccinated people in South Africa, we need to be careful."
This discussion of a plausible infection despite being vaccinated has brought back the debate on booster dose. Dr Suneela Garg, a member of the lancet commission, said that in Africa almost 41 percent have received one dose and 30 percent have received two doses. Garg compares this to the Indian population where 83 percent have been vaccinated with one dose and above 43 percent with two doses.
According to Garg the need of the hour is to quickly vaccinate people with two doses and then "we should think about evolving vaccination strategy and think about booster dose."
The discussion on covid booster shots in India is ongoing as the Delhi High Court on November 25, yesterday said to the centre that the planning on whether to provide one in India should not be based on economics of it, if it is necessary. The court also questioned the centre that if the United States and countries in Europe are permitting the booster dose, why was it not made available to India?
This new strain comes as a worry for India as the country has just started issuing visas to international travellers again. In the light which, the latter by the ministry stressed on rigorous testing of travellers entering the country from "at-risk" countries.
The guideline issued also stated that they (the international travellers) need to be tracked and tested. Then, if tested positive, their samples need to be sent to designated INSACOG Genome Sequencing labs.
The letter was sent by Union Health Ministry secretary Rajesh Bhushan as it poses a major risk to public health in India.
By November 25, yesterday, 77 samples of the new variants have been collected from Gauteng provinces in South Africa, four samples from Botswana and one from Hong Kong.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that more investigation is underway as the scientists analyse it further. According to South African scientists, the new variant has a higher number of mutations and can evade the body's immune response. They also said that it might be more transmissible.
Before this, there were already four variants of the coronavirus. It was named as Alpha or the UK variant, Beta or South African variant, Gamma or Brazil variant and Delta or Indian variant.