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India to test travellers from Brazil, South Africa, UK after detecting new virus strains

India, which has reported the highest number of overall COVID-19 cases after the United States, detected the South African variant in four people last month and the Brazilian one in one person this month.

February 18, 2021 / 08:04 PM IST

India will make COVID-19 molecular tests mandatory for people arriving directly or indirectly from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil in a bid to contain the spread of more infectious virus variants found in those countries.

India, which has reported the highest number of overall COVID-19 cases after the United States, detected the South African variant in four people last month and the Brazilian one in one person this month.

The government has said the South African and Brazilian strains can more easily infect a person's lungs than the UK mutation. India has so far reported 187 cases of infection with the UK variant.

The government late on Wednesday said airlines would be required from next week to segregate inbound travellers from those countries. India does not have direct flights with Brazil and South Africa, and most people travelling from these countries generally transit through Middle Eastern airports.

"All the travellers arriving from/transiting through flights originating in United Kingdom, Europe or the Middle East shall be mandatorily subjected to self-paid confirmatory molecular tests on arrival," India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement.

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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All flyers will also have to carry a recent COVID-negative report before boarding any flight to India, except in extraordinary circumstances like death in a family.

India has so far reported about 11 million coronavirus cases and more than 155,000 deaths. Cases have come down sharply since a mid-September peak of nearly 100,000 a day.

A government serological survey released this month, however, said nearly 300 million of India's 1.35 billion people may already have been infected by the virus.

The country has also administered 9.2 million vaccine doses since starting its campaign on Jan. 16.
Reuters
first published: Feb 18, 2021 09:47 am
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