Centre issues alert on South African COVID variant, rigorous screening on

In a letter to states and Union territories, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhusan said that six cases of the variant 8.1.1529 which has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations have been reported in South Africa, while three and one have been reported in Bostwana and Hong Kong respectively

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The Union Health Ministry on Thursday issued a directive to all states and Union Territories to rigorously screen and test travellers coming from or commuting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Bostwana, where a new variant of the novel coronavirus has been detected.

In a letter to states and Union territories, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhusan said that as per the National Centre for Disease Control
(NCDC), six cases of the variant 8.1.1529 which has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations have been reported in South Africa, while three and one have been reported in Bostwana and Hong Kong respectively.

“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,” Bhusan said.

He instructed states to send the samples of travellers testing positive to designated genome sequencing laboratories without fail, and ensure that the contacts of these travellers are traced and tested.

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“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 health secretary said in the communication to states.

The new variant is believed to have more spike mutations, a trend unseen in other variants before. Authorities in the country have confirmed as many as 22 positive cases of the variant on Thursday, which have led to a surge in cases in the country.

In a news briefing on Thursday, scientists in South Africa raised concerns over the mutations found in the new variant as, “they could help it evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible”, pointing to its ability to evade vaccines.

The UK Health Security Agency has declared the variant a variant under investigation (VuL).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has convened an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the variant, and will decide if it should be determined as a variant of interest or concern.

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

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