Epidemiologists and health officials in Maharashtra say there is no cause of concern yet regarding a new Covid-19 variant in South Africa known as 501.V2. Maharashtra continues to quarantine passengers who have returned from the UK and Middle East as a precautionary measure against variant B.1.1.7 detected in UK. Passengers from Europe and South Africa are also being quarantined and tested at the end of seven days.
On January 4, British health secretary Matt Hancock said the 501.V2 variant sequenced in South Africa is of more concern than the variant found in UK (B.1.1.7) due to questions of vaccine efficacy on the former. South Africa reported the 501.V2 variant on December 18. It is a mutation in spike protein identified as E484K. South Africa’s coastal areas are recording a spike in cases and deaths due to this mutation.
“Mutations are natural as viruses jump from one host to another. Not all mutations are of concern unless they give an extra weapon to the virus to spread. There is no indication or direction from the Indian government to strengthen our surveillance against the African variant,” said state epidemiologist Dr Pradeep Awate.
Dr Shashank Joshi, member of the Maharashtra Covid-19 Task Force, said, “Available literature shows the R0 of UK variant is high and it is 70 times more transmissible than the original Sars-Cov-2. But no such detailed findings have come out for the African variant. Whether vaccine will work or not is a concern for all mutations and for that we need more research,” Joshi said.
According to the World Health Organisation, the 501.V2 has spread in three provinces of South Africa with initial studies showing it is associated with high viral load. Cases of 501.V2 variant are found in UK, Japan, Norway and Austria too.
In Mumbai, deputy executive health officer Dr Daksha Shah said international passengers from Europe, UK, Middle East and South Africa are already being quarantined for seven days and tested for Covid-19 before they are released. “This is abundant precaution. The centre has not issued any further directions ,” she said.
Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that currently they are focussing on screening all UK returnees. “Those passengers who are Covid-19 positive and are immunocompromised are kept under isolation for 21 days and those with no comorbidity and are asymptomatic are kept in isolation for 14 days. Since November 25, all those who returned from UK have been traced,” Tope said.
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