New COVID Variant With 10 Mutations Raises Concerns, India Cautious

Johannesburg: South African scientists said they had detected a new Covid-19 variant that has a large number of mutations and blamed it for a surge in infection numbers on Thursday.

The daily infection rate in Africa’s worst-hit country has soared tenfold since the beginning of the month.

“Unfortunately we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira was quoted as saying in a news conference by news agency AFP.

The variant called B.1.1.529 “has a very high number of mutations,” he said. Oliveira expressed hope that the World Health Organization (WHO) will give it a Greek name on Friday.

“It’s unfortunately causing a resurgence of infections,” he said.

The variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, he added.

According to WHO, it is “closely monitoring” the reported variant and is expected to convene a technical meeting on Friday to determine if it should be designated a variant of “interest” or of “concern”.

“Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study,” the WHO added.

However, India called for rigorous screening and testing of fliers coming from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, in a letter to states and union territories, asked them to ensure that samples of travellers turning positive are sent to designated genome sequencing laboratories promptly. The contacts of these international travellers must also be closely tracked and tested as per Health Ministry guidelines, Bhushan said.

“lt has now been reported by NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) that multiple cases of a COVID-19 variant 8.1.1529 have been reported in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Honk 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 letter read.

“lt is therefore imperative that all international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries, (they are part of the “at risk” Country Category of international travellers coming to India) and also including all other ‘at risk’ countries indicated in the revised Guidelines for international Arrivals issued by this Ministry dated 11.11.2021, are subjected to rigorous screening and testing, as per MoHFW Guidelines. The contacts of these international travellers must also be closely tracked and tested as per MoHFW guidelines,” the guidelines said.

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