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Centre Asks States for Strict Screening of Foreign Fliers As New Covid Variant With ‘Horrific’ Mutations Found

The new variant, B.1.1.529, was first spotted in Botswana. (PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images)

The new variant, B.1.1.529, was first spotted in Botswana. (PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images)

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan sent a letter to the states, asking them to subject fliers from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana to tighter screening.

The Centre on Thursday demanded thorough screening of passengers coming from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana after a new Covid-19 variant with “horrific spike profile” was detected there.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan sent a letter to the states, asking them to subject fliers from these countries to “rigorous screening and testing”.

“It has now been reported by NCDC that multiple cases of a Covid-19 variant B.1.1529 have been reported in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Honk 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 letter read.

Bhushan said it is “imperative that all international travellers travelling from and transiting through these countries, and also including all other ‘at risk’ countries indicated in the revised Guidelines for international Arrivals issued by this Ministry dated 11.11.2021, are subjected to rigorous screening and testing, as per MoHFW Guidelines”.

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“The contacts of these international travellers must also be closely tracked and tested as per MoHFW guidelines,” the letter added.

The new variant, B.1.1.529, was first spotted in Botswana. So far, only 10 cases have been confirmed by genomic sequencing. The scientists have, however, warned that this variant carries an “extremely high number” of mutations that may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s defences.

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, posted the details of the variant on social media on Friday, noting that the “incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern (predicted escape from most known monoclonal antibodies)”.

The WHO said 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.

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was of “serious concern" and behind an “exponential" increase in reported cases, making it “a major threat".

(With AFP inputs)

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first published:November 25, 2021, 21:30 IST