2 min read.Updated: 21 Dec 2020, 05:09 PM ISTLeroy Leo
Health minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday called the situation created by discovery of the new strain of novel coronavirus in the UK as “imaginary” and said that there is no need to panic as the government is closely monitoring the situation.
New Delhi: Health minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday called the situation created by discovery of the new strain of novel coronavirus in the UK as “imaginary" and said that there is no need to panic right now as the government is closely monitoring the situation.
“The only thing I would say is that these are currently all imaginary situations, and please do not get tangled in the imaginary panic. The government is alert to every situation and, as you have seen over the last year, it has taken decisions in public interest. The government is monitoring every situation, and if you ask me there is no need for so much panic," Vardhan said at the curtain-raiser press conference for India International Science Festival.
Vardhan’s comments came on a day when a meetings of joint monitoring group chaired by director general for health services Sunil Kumar as well as the Vaccine Task Force headed by K. VijayRaghavan, principal scientific adviser to the government, and V.K. Paul, NITI Aayog’s member-health, were held.
Following the meeting, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote a letter to civil aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola, asking for a suspension of flights to and from UK from Tuesday till 31 December. The aviation ministry immediately took the decision. Mint has seen a copy of the letter.
In the letter, Bhushan said, “As you are aware, India has been seeing a sustained decline in the number of fresh covid-19 cases for over 2 1/2 (two and a half) months now, accompanied by a decline in the number of deaths. In this scenario, any interjection of a SARS-COV2 variant virus through passengers with air travel history could pose critical risks for pandemic management in India."
On Sunday, the UK government announced that it has observed a new strain of the novel coronavirus, codenamed "VUI–202012/01", or the first variant under investigation in December 2020, in the south east part of the country which is known to spread faster. The vast majority of cases identified are in London, the south east and the east of England, the government said.
“Backwards tracing using the genetic evidence suggests this variant emerged in September 2020 and then circulated at very low levels in the population until mid-November," the UK government said in a statement.
The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), in its threat assessment report on Sunday, said that the new variant of the virus was known to be up to 70% more contagious, but there was no indication on increased severity at this point of time.
A few cases with the new variant have to date been reported by Denmark and the Netherlands and, according to media reports, in Belgium, the ECDC report said.
Crucially, the report said that the new variant is defined by multiple spike protein mutations, which has caused considerable concern about the effectiveness of vaccines that are currently being developed as most are targeting the spike protein.
“With the implementation of vaccination, close monitoring of covid-19-vaccinated individuals needs to be ensured to identify possible vaccination failure and breakthrough infections. Virus isolates from these cases should be sequenced and characterised genetically and antigenically," ECDC said.
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