India issued an advisory to all states to rigorously test and screen international travellers from South Africa and other "at risk" countries amidst concerns over a new coronavirus variant, after easing some of its travel restrictions earlier this month.
The federal health ministry said reports of mutations in the new variant, identified as B.1.1.529, had "serious public health implications".
"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," health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter to states issued late on Thursday.
On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency said the new variant has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on. And it could make existing vaccines less effective.
Britain has banned flights from six African countries, and asked returning British travellers from those destinations to quarantine.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
India, the world’s second-worst affected country by COVID-19, posted the smallest rise in new cases in one-and-a-half years this week, due to rising vaccinations and antibodies in a large section of its population from previous infections.
The country’s total cases of the coronavirus reached 34.56 million on Friday. India’s daily caseload has halved since September and the country reported 10,549 new cases on Friday.
Earlier this month, India identified 10 countries "at risk" that includes Europe, Britain, China, South Africa, and New Zealand, among others. And has opened its borders to 99 countries overall.