The new COVID-19 variant grabbing global headlines, this is what we know so far about it

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The new COVID-19 variant grabbing global headlines, this is what we know so far about it
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  • The new COVID-19 variant B.1.1529 has an unusually large number of mutations.
  • Officials have expressed concern that the mutation could lead to immune evasion and enhanced transmissibility of the virus.
  • The central government has asked all states and union territories (UT) to closely track and test the international travellers from Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong coming to India.
After the Delta variant, a new COVID-19 variant named ‘B.1.1529’, which was found in South Africa, is making headlines now. According to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), three cases in Botswana, six cases in South Africa and one case in Hong Kong of this new variant have so far been detected.

How is the B.1.1529 variant different from other variants?



The significance of this variant is that it has an unusually large number of mutations. “It is likely to have evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) patient,” said virologist Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation in a news briefing.

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He said, “It is spreading very fast and we expect to see pressure in the health system in the next few days and weeks.” He has also advised people to avoid super spreading events.

A genomic scientist in that same news briefing said, “The variant has an unusually high number of mutations, with more than 30 in the key spike protein — the structure the virus uses to get into the cells they attack”.

Data about the new variant is limited



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Officials have expressed concern that the mutation could lead to immune evasion and enhanced transmissibility of the virus and also said that it is too early to tell what kind of impact the mutations will have on vaccine efficacy, as reported by news agency CNN.

Adrian Puren, acting executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said in a statement, “Although the data are limited, our experts are working overtime with all the established surveillance systems to understand the new variant and what the potential implications could be. Developments are occurring at a rapid pace and the public has our assurance that we will keep them up to date".

What is the Indian government saying about the new variant?



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In the wake of this new mutation, the central government has asked all states and union territories (UT) to closely track and test the international travellers from Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong coming to India and has categorised them as ‘at risk’ under country category, as per the official statement released by the Union Health Ministry on November 25.

According to a Times of India report, the Centre has also asked the state surveillance officers to establish close coordination with the designated or tagged genome sequencing labs for expediting results of genomic analysis to make sure that the necessary public health measures are taken by the states and UTs during this tough time.

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