The Centre on Thursday warned all states and Union territories to be extra cautious regarding international passengers travelling from or through Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong after South African scientists detected a new Covid variant (B.1.1529).
“It is imperative that all international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries and also including all other ‘at risk’ countries are subjected to rigorous screening and testing.
The contacts of these international travellers must also be closely tracked and tested,” health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to states and UTs at a time when the Covid-19 situation in the country is improving.
In its letter to the states, the Centre said multiple cases of this new variant have been reported in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Hong Kong (1 case).
“This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations and thus has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” the Centre said.
According to reports, South African scientists have identified the new variant as concerning as it has unusual mutations which could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
This new variant, according to a statement by Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, possibly evolved during chronic infection of an immuno-compromised, likely in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient.
Officials of the World Health Organization took note of the new variant and held a meeting to discuss B.1.1529.
“Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study,” the WHO said.
South African health minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of “serious concern” and behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat”. Scientists said the new B.1.1.529 variant has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta or three for Beta.