The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) is closely tracking the new variant of COVID-19 called B.1.1.529 and its presence has not been detected in the country yet, officials said on Friday.
The new variant, feared to have a high amount of spike mutations, has been detected in South Africa, with the authorities there confirming 22 positive cases associated with it on Thursday.
Commenting on the development, a senior scientist with INSACOG said the consortium is closely tracking the new variant of COVID-19 called B.1.1.529 and its presence has not been detected yet in the country.
Health Ministry sources said INSACOG is “very closely monitoring” the situation to check for the presence of this variant and expedite the results of genomic analysis of positive samples of international travellers.
A review meeting on the matter was also learnt to have been held.
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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.
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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.
There has been no isolation of the variant so far, a source said. Samples of all international passengers are being collected as usual and positive samples will be specifically looked for B1.1.529 on priority. The Ministry of Health and the Department of Biotechnology have already reviewed the situation, the source said.
The Centre on Thursday asked all states and union territories to conduct rigorous screening and testing of all international travellers coming from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana where the new COVID-19 variant of serious public health implications has been reported.
In a letter addressed to additional chief secretary/principal secretary/secretary (Health) of all states and union territories, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked them to ensure that samples of travellers turning positive are sent to designated genome sequencing laboratories promptly.