New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: The Union government on Thursday warned all states and Union Territories to remain additionally cautious in the wake of detection of a more dangerous variant of COVID-19 (B.1.1529), first identified in South Africa. The government said that states must adopt extra caution while screening the international passengers travelling from or through Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong.

"It is imperative that all international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries and also including all other 'at risk' countries are subjected to rigorous screening and testing. The contacts of these international travellers must also be closely tracked and tested," Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to states and Union Territories.

The letter adds that multiple cases of the new variant have been reported from Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Hong 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 Centre said.

According to reports in South African media, South African scientists have identified the new variant of COVID-19 with unusual mutations which could help it evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible than the existing variants.

Test Positivity Rate (TPR) 'increasing quickly': South African authorities

As per the South African government-run National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), 22 positive cases of the B.1.1.529 variant have been recorded in the country following genomic sequencing.

An AFP report quoted NICD saying that the number of detected cases and the percentage testing positive are "increasing quickly" in three of the country's provinces including Gauteng, home to the economic Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

What is B.1.529 variant and how dangerous is it?

Scientists said the new B.1.1.529 variant has at least 10 mutations, compared to two for Delta or three for Beta. According to Professor Christina Pagel, Director, Clinical Research Unit at University College of London, the new variant has been detected in Guateng province of South Africa, where Test Positivity Rate (TPR) in Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality increased massively in the last three weeks, from less than 1 per cent to over 30 per cent.

“We do know that B.1.529 has many more mutations than other variants and has mutations seen in other variants that are associated with both higher transmissibility and immune escape,” Professor Christina adds about the COVID-19 variant which is reported to have resulted in ten-fold increase in COVID-19 cases since the start of the month. 

“The sheer increase (in the cases) is very worrying and suggests that B.1.1.529 might have significant advantages over Delta and C.1.2. What exactly this advantage is and how it breaks down between immune escape and transmissibility is not yet known.” Professor Pagel adds further in her Twitter thread explaining the spread of virus due to new variant.

WHO 'closely monitoring' the situation

The WHO said on Thursday that 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.

Posted By: Mukul Sharma