Senior experts said there was no need for panic over the new mutated variant of Covid-19 virus that reportedly spreads 70% faster and was first detected in the United Kingdom.
Participating in a webinar organised by Heal Foundation, Dr (Prof) Amitav Banerjee, Head, Community Medicine of Pune-based DY Medical College, said if a virus is fast-spreading, it would be mild and less virulent. Moreover, the new variant was discovered in September in the UK and the same may have come to India but escaped detection as it needed genome sequencing. The fact that from September the Covid graph in India has been declining shows that there was no case for panic.
The new mutant variant was first detected in September this year in the United Kingdom. It became a public scare only by mid-December. However, between November 24-December 23 period, around 33,000 passengers arrived in India from the UK.
So far more than 120 people who have returned from the UK have tested positive for Covid-19. Twenty of them have been confirmed to be infected with the mutant variant of novel coronavirus. Samples of all Covid-19 positive cases are being genome sequenced to ascertain the extent of mutant variant of coronavirus in India.
Prof Banerjee said hard data shows that a sizable population may have already got the virus or its variant and hence there are chances of herd immunity. Citing the example of Dharavi, he said that a sero surveillance study had indicated that 55% percent of the slum dwellers had developed antibodies against the virus. “That is close to the figures for herd immunity,” he said.
“Festivals came and went, so did Bihar elections and elections to local bodies in a few states. The skies did not fall. We should depend on the Covid data from within India rather than depending on data from abroad”, he said.
Prof Banerjee also said that those who have already recovered from Covid-19 need not take a vaccine shot as the antibodies developed in one’s own body are more powerful than a vaccine. Mutations are a natural process in the life of a virus and if it mutates to become virulent, it will die out soon.
Dr JC Suri, Director, Department of Pulmonology at Fortis, said all that has to be done with those who were infected with the new variant of the virus is isolation in order to prevent a possible spread. He said India will have to look for any clusters emerging and take swift action to isolate the area.
He was of the opinion that India should go in for more testing and isolation rather than lock downs.
Dr Sanjay Rai, Professor, Dept of Community Medicine at AIIMS and president, Indian Public Health Association, said the vaccines being developed against Covid-19 would be effective against the mutated version too.
He expected the authorities to approve one of the vaccines within a week and the front-runner seems to be Covishield developed by Oxford University and pharma major AstraZeneca which is being manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute. “Since the UK has already approved emergency use of the Oxford vaccine, the clearance process may be faster in India,” he said.
In fact, applications for the emergency use approval for the coronavirus vaccines filed by the Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech and Pfizer were taken up for consideration by a government-appointed panel of experts Wednesday.
Bharat Biotech which has partnered the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for its ‘Covaxin’ made presentations before the panel. Pfizer has sought more time to present their data.
The analysis of the data is ongoing and the panel will meet again on Friday, a government statement said.
Once the vaccines are cleared by the expert panel, the applications will be sent to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for final approval. The government wants to start administering the shots starting next month, sources said and Prof Rai concurred.