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Indian Covid-19 variant spreads to nearly 50 countries

file photo: coronavirus disease (covid 19) outbreak in bengaluru
India recorded 4205 coronavirus deaths in a single day recently REUTERS/Samuel Rajkumar/File Photo

On May 10th, the World Health Organization said that the Indian coronavirus variant was a global concern, with records indicating that the variant has ‘increased transmissibility’ compared to previous strains. It is said that the spread of this new variant is one of the key factors fueling India’s surge in new infections and deaths. 

More accurately referred to as B.1.617, the Indian variant of SARS CoV-2 is said to spread faster in every age group, including young children. It has led to a higher proportion of asymptomatic patients admitted to hospitals in India. Those admitted are also reporting increased breathlessness, demonstrating why the country’s healthcare facilities are running out of oxygen and essential oxygen equipment like medical oxygen regulators and oxygen flow meters

The WHO detailed a couple of weeks ago that the Indian variant of COVID-19 that had accelerated the country’s explosive outbreak and death tolls had started to spread to other countries. The United Nations reported that the B.1.617 variant was spotted in at least 44 other countries. 

The UN said that the B.1.617 was found in at least 4500 samples uploaded to an open-access database from at least 44 nations in WHO regions. A few days after this report, WHO announced that the variant had already spread to 49 countries globally. 

The world’s concern about this variant comes after India recorded 4205 coronavirus deaths in a single day – a new record that pushed the new South Asia nation’s overall deaths from COVID-19 past the 250,000 marks. Although the number of infections and mortalities have fallen slightly in recent weeks, the total number of infections stands at 26+ million, with over 296000 deaths to date. 

Outside India, the UK has recorded the highest number of infections from the B.1.617 variant, at about 1600 as of 14th May. After months of good news, including the falling COVID-19 cases and massively successful vaccination campaign, the tone has shifted in the UK. 

The region’s full relaxation of the pandemic protocols that was set for June has increased, and there is greater pressure on the National Health Service. Concerns have been ballooning over the past two weeks, and for the first time, specialists that advise the UK government are now confident that the variant spreads more easily. 

Singapore reported last week that it had detected 156 cases of the Indian variant, representing more than two-thirds of what had been reported in the past four weeks. To respond, the country imposed new lockdown measures. From May 16th to June 13th, household visitors and gatherings were reduced to two people from five. Employees are advised to work from home, with indoor dining also stopped. 

The same week, Australia reported 85 cases of B.1.617, and the government also imposed new restrictions to respond. The restrictions included banning more than 20 people from gathering in private homes and made mask-wearing compulsory in all public indoor spaces. 

Denmark confirmed 39 cases of the variant around the same time as Tyra Grove Krause, but the director of the State Serum Institute, an agency for infection detection in the country, said that this was not currently a cause for concern. Restaurants, cafes, bars, and other establishments have remained open since April 21st, provided visitors are vaccinated and show a negative test result taken within 72 hours. 

Meanwhile, the US has already detected 486 cases of B.1.617, approximately half of what has been detected in the country in the past four weeks. This surge has prompted the government to impose a prohibition on Indian travel, with exception of legal permanent residents, spouses, as well as close family members of US citizens. 

Other cases have been reported in Germany, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, China, and African countries according to a recent report from WHO.  Although the global number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths has decreased over the past couple of weeks, the new Indian variant is alarming. 

There is a growing expectation that the variant may edge out other strains and eventually dominate cases. As such, nations are in a race between the virus and the vaccine. Those that are better equipped with key essentials such as medical oxygen and necessary apparatus such as oxygen flowmeters and ventilators are likely to endure.  

Scientists still believe that the existing vaccines and containment measures can help control the variant. But, some variants will inevitably escape the current vaccines. As such, changes to vaccine design and continued adherence to set protocols will make the fight against COVID-19 variants more effective. 

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