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Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Monday said that the government was 'alert' about the new strain of coronavirus and the scientists are keeping a close eye on every development."There is no need to panic over imaginary situations and descriptions. I don't think the situation is creating a panic here, but let me tell you that our scientists are closely keeping an eye on every development," LiveMint quoted Vardhan as saying.
On December 21, India banned flights from the United Kingdom till December 31 after a new fast-spreading strain of the coronavirus was identified there. Starting from Wednesday, all the passengers arriving from the UK will undergo RT-PCR test on arrival at airports.
The mutant strain has got a much higher rate of transmission and has rapidly spread in the UK.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said the new variant had an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the spike protein which is often responsible for how the virus interacts with a human cell, NDTV reported.
The new variant VUI - 202012/01, also known as lineage B.1.1.7, has led to the surge in cases in the UK. Various scientists and researchers have said that this new strain has much higher transmissibility compared to the earlier variant.
The discovery of the new variant amid the ongoing struggle has shaken the world and posed several questions, from the increase in health risk to its impact on the current treatments.
It is normal for viruses to mutate over time, and coronavirus has undergone various mutations over the year. The new variant was discovered in the UK last week.
Speaking to India Today, Founder-Director of ICMR Epidemiology department in Chennai, Mohan Gupte said the new variant was discovered around September 20 in South England, and it shows some 17 changes in the genome, which is a substantial change.
Due to this, there is also a change in transmissibility of the infection. It is 40-70 per cent more infectious compared to the earlier variant, Gupte added.
According to the Reuters report, the new variant has rapidly become the dominant strain in cases of COVID-19 and has been linked to an increase in hospitalisation rates, especially in London.
The new variant has 23 mutations in its genetic code - a relatively high number of changes.
"The new B.1.1.7 ... still appears to have all the human lethality that the original had, but with an increased ability to transmit," the media quoted Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Effects on Testing And Vaccines
The new variant also affects testing. Microbiology expert, Robert Shorten said that one of the mutations in the new variant affects one of three genomic targets used by some PCR tests, which means this new variant affects the ability of tests to detect the virus.
Speaking on the effect of COVID-19 vaccine on this new variant, scientists say there's no evidence that vaccines currently being deployed will not protect against this variant.
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