Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan Monday said the government was on alert about the new strain of coronavirus that has emerged in the United Kingdom and asked people not to panic. The variant has triggered concern and prompted several countries to stop incoming flights from the UK.
“As of now, there is no need to get involved with these imaginary situations, imaginary panic. The Centre is alert and there is no need to panic about it,” Vardhan said, speaking at the curtain-raiser for the 6th India International Science Festival-2020 (IISF 2020). “The government is fully conscious about everything. If you ask me, there is no reason to panic the way we are seeing in this press conference,” the minister said, adding that the government had done everything that was important to handle the COVID-19 situation in the last one year.
Shortly before Vardhan’s appeal, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged the Centre to immediately ban all flights from the UK over the “super-spreader” mutation.
The Health Ministry’s top advisory body is expected to meet today to discuss the new strain of virus, and the future course of action. Sources told The Indian Express experts from AIIMS and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), along with a representative from the World Health Organisation (WHO), would attend the meeting.
Echoing Kejriwal, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said medical experts should be ready with a treatment plan in case of any outbreak of the new strain of virus. “The new strain of novel coronavirus emerging in the UK is a matter of great concern. GoI must take prompt action, prepare a contingency plan to contain the same and also immediately ban all flights from the UK & other European countries,” Gehlot tweeted.
The new strain of novel coronavirus emerging in the UK is a matter of great concern. GoI must take prompt action, prepare a contingency plan to contain the same & also immediately ban all flights from the UK & other European countries.
— Ashok Gehlot (@ashokgehlot51) December 21, 2020
“India needs both a preparedness plan as well as steps to restrict any movement from affected country or countries. Our medical experts must be ready with a treatment plan in case of any outbreak of the new strain of virus. Health protocols must be adhered to even more strictly,” he said.
The new strain shows alterations in the spike protein that could theoretically make it more infectious.
The Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which randomly carries out genetic sequencing of positive Covid-19 samples around Britain, has identified a new set of mutations in the virus, called VUI-202012/0. In a report on Saturday, COG-UK said one of the most important mutations, N501Y, occurs in the region of the spike protein, the receptor-binding domain (RBD), which the virus uses to bind to the human ACE2 receptor. “Changes in this region of the spike protein can result in the virus changing its ACE2 binding specificity and alter antibody recognition,” COG-UK has said.
The consortium, however, emphasised that “at this point in time, there is no reason to believe that any of the mutations discussed here will affect vaccine efficacy”.
The mutation has caused 1,100 new infections in 60 local authority areas, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock reportedly said. Earlier on December 14, Hancock had told the House of Commons that initial analysis revealed the new variant “may be associated” with the recent rise in cases in southeast England.
Italy Monday said it had detected one patient infected with the new strain of the coronavirus. The patient and his partner had returned to the country from the UK.