Updated: November 27, 2021 10:33:10 am
The Health Ministry has done well to sound an alert after South African authorities announced that they had detected a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with “an unusual constellation of variants”. The pathogen has also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel. According to experts, the variant has 30 mutations in its spike protein. This isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. But given the unpredictable ways of the novel coronavirus and the depredations caused by its Delta variant, the safety-first approach taken by Indian authorities is not out of place. Less than 50 per cent of the Indian adult population is totally inoculated. Even though serosurveys show that a high proportion of the country’s population has been exposed to the virus and the microbe seems to be on the retreat in most parts of the country, Europe’s recent experience shows that the pathogen remains a serious threat, even to countries with inoculation levels much higher than India.
With their large population of HIV patients particularly suspect to the virus and a large percentage of unvaccinated population, Eastern and Southern Africa are fighting difficult odds in their battle against Covid. Experts say that the virus stays longer in immune-compromised patients — preliminary reports indicate that the new variant originated in an untreated HIV patient — and chances of the new variant making its way to other regions are rife. Some EU countries have already imposed restrictions on air traffic from the region. International air traffic hasn’t resumed to pre-Covid levels in India, yet. But given the country’s close cultural and business ties with Southern Africa, state governments should treat the Centre’s directive to conduct genome sequencing tests on Covid-positive passengers from the country — as well as other nations where the variant has made its presence felt — with utmost seriousness. Let’s not forget that prevarication over genome testing was a major reason for the Delta variant assuming grave proportions in the country.
Several nations in the West are now resorting to booster shots to strengthen the immunity of their populations against breakthrough infections, most of which seem to be caused by variants. Experts in India have rightly pointed out that the country should complete its vaccination targets for the current year before contemplating a third dose. It’s apt that, at the same time, conversations on the way ahead after the current vaccination drive have begun in the country. The new variant is another warning that we need to stay ahead of the virus, and not let our guard down.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on November 27, 2021 under the title ‘Safety first’.
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