New COVID strain not a mutation, doctors clarify

Britain has gone into a fresh lockdown owing to the detection of a new strain of Coronavirus.

Credit : Artistic derivation of Reuters image

While Britain has gone into a fresh lockdown owing to the detection of a new strain of Coronavirus, doctors and experts have not alarmed a red signal for India yet, as long as testing and contact tracing is improved in the country. The new strain of Coronavirus discovered in the UK is highly contagious, however, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that it is not yet out of control. However, doctors and experts have cautioned that while there is no need to be scared, the government should not repeat the mistakes it made at the beginning of the year, and begin testing and tracing soon.

Doctors have stated that the new strain is certainly not a mutation. “We could call it a mutation if there was a change in the DNA or RNA sequencing of the virus. But that’s not the case. As per the British officials, the virus is 70 percent more transmissible, which means that it spreads at a faster rate. Such incidents are known to occur during a pandemic, and this should not be hyped,” says Dr Avinash Bhondwe, Maharashtra President, Indian Medical Association (IMA).

He explains, “There was a sudden surge in the number of patients in London, after which multiple swab tests were done, which detected the new strain of the virus. So they immediately tried to restrain it by imposing a lockdown.”

“We have had a much higher (contamination rate) at different points in this pandemic and we’ve got it under control,” said Michael Ryan, WHO’s Emergencies Chief, in a press conference addressing the issue. 

Instead of panicking, the doctors have advised that it’s now necessary to increase testing. “We haven’t even had the second wave of the pandemic yet. And we have begun taking measures to ensure that the new strain does not spread to India. Flights have been banned, so I think we have no reason to fear yet,” said Dr Prakash Koyade of Dr Yashwantrao Chavan Memorial Hospital.

Presently, the Indian Government has banned the flights from the UK from December 23. Those travelling to India between December 21 and 23 will be subjected to RT-PCR (swab) tests on arrival, and those testing positive will remain isolated in institutional quarantine facilities. Flights from India to the UK also remain suspended.

However, along with testing, Bhondwe has also stated that there should be maximum contact tracing. “The government has banned the flights now, but what about the last 15 days when so many people have already travelled from the UK and other European countries to India. The number of cases began increasing in the UK in the last couple of weeks, so ignoring the cases would be repeating the mistakes we made last time,” he added.

While the rate of transmission is higher in the new strain, the symptoms are almost the same. Just like the original strain, even in this, 80 percent of the people are asymptomatic, and only 20 percent are symptomatic.

“Because of asymptomatic patients, it is very necessary to trace people who have come from Europe, and those who have come in contact with them. We need to start prepping for an increased number of infections, and devise proper measures to contain it,” Bhondwe added.

Meanwhile, in a press briefing on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stated that in the last seven weeks, the average of daily new cases have been a continuous decline. Also, the share of active cases in total positive cases has further shrunk to 2.90 percent. The state of Maharashtra has imposed a night curfew in the state from 11 pm to 6 am till January 5, in view of the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

World over, patients with the new strain of virus have been detected in the UK, Italy, Australia, South Africa. France has expressed a possibility that the new strain might have spread in the country.