Over the past few days, reports of a new strain of the coronavirus came from not just the UK but also South Africa. While mutation was expected, the news of a more contagious variant of the virus has gripped the world in a state of panic and the word “COVID-20” (not what its officially called) has been tossed around on the internet.
Many countries including India, France, Germany, Austria and Italy suspended fights from the UK as the British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock warned that the new strain is “out of control” while announcing a stay at home order in the country during the holidays. Around the same time, South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that a variant of COVID-19 “currently termed 501.V12” has been found by scientists.
This genomics team, led by the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, or KRISP, has sequenced hundreds of samples from across the country since the beginning of the pandemic in March. #SARSCOV2MediaBriefing
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) December 18, 2020
Here’s what you need to know about the new coronavirus strain:
WHO’s director-general Dr Tedros, in a media briefing, commented on the new variants of COVID-19 found in the UK and South Africa saying “viruses mutate over time; that’s natural and expected”. He also added, “The UK has reported that this new variant transmits more easily but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to cause severe disease or mortality”.
A similar statement was made by NITI Aayog member Dr V.K. Paul who in a press conference said, “The transmissibility has increased by 70 per cent, you can also call them super-spreader in a way. This virus increases infectiousness but does not increase the propensity for death or hospitalisation or severity of the disease. What is affected is the tendency to affect more people that by itself is a cause of concern. It is an adverse development.” as per reports on NDTV. He added, “This virus mutation is not affecting the severity of the disease, neither the case fatality nor the hospitalization rate. The new strain or mutation of coronavirus seen in the United Kingdom has not been seen in India, so far. There is no cause for concern, no need to panic. As for now, we need to stay vigilant,”
He further explained that as per the centre’s assessment, the new strain will not have an impact on the vaccines that are currently in varying stages of development. So there is no reason to believe that the vaccines will be ineffective against it.
But there’s no reason to panic (more than we already do on a daily basis).
With 2020 coming to a close and coronavirus cases nowhere nearly diminishing across the world, the threat of a new virus strain sounds worrying and calls for vigilance. However, there isn’t cause to believe that the variants are more deadly than COVID-19, just more transmissible. The rapid rate at which the infection spreads is enough reason for people to be more careful.
Currently, flights coming in and out of India from the UK have been suspected till December 31. Passengers who recently arrived from the UK are being traced and tested for new virus strains. Amidst the overwhelming number of updates, the guidelines of social distancing, avoiding travel and staying even more vigilant remains.
Cover image for representation purposes only.