There is no need to panic over the mutated variant of SARS-CoV-2 detected in the UK, the government said on Tuesday, asserting that no such variant or any significant mutation in the coronavirus strain has been seen in India yet.
NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V K Paul, during a press briefing, also said the mutated SARS-CoV-2 strain detected in the UK will have no impact on the potential of emerging vaccines which are being developed in India and other countries.
"As of now, based on our discussions, deep understanding of data available and our deep assessment, there is no need to panic but it is a cause to be more vigilant," he said.
Paul said that "this new challenge, we have to counter with our comprehensive efforts". "We will be safe if we suppress the genomic sequence," he said.
There is no change in the treatment guidelines so far due to this mutation and the vaccines that are being developed, particularly those in the country, will not be impacted, Paul said.
This variant of the virus in the UK is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations, he said and added that its tendency to enter the body's cells has become higher and transmissibility has also increased with mutation.
"It is also being said that in these viruses, the transmissibility has increased by 70 per cent, you can also call them super spreader in a way. This virus increases infectiousness but does not increase propensity for death or hospitalisation or severity of the disease. What is affected is the tendency to affect more people that by itself is a cause of concern. It is an adverse development," he said.
Paul said that there is no need to "panic" and added that "we are yet to spot such a virus in our country and for which there are intensive efforts in the offing."
"According to data available with us, we have not detected such mutation in Indian samples and the ones we have detected are insignificant," he said.
However, since mutation in SARS-CoV-2 has been reported in the UK, the government has taken a number of decisions, Paul said.
Passengers who have returned from the UK will be contacted, their clinical issues will be understood and tests will be conducted with specimen subject to genetic sequencing, he said.
In addition, he said that temporary travel restrictions have been imposed to and from the UK.
"In an important step, all the recent samples of the virus that we have received in our designated laboratories have been prioritised for genetic sequencing from yesterday and the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) and the DBT (Department of Biotechnology) are all involved in it and it is being done in a comprehensive manner," Paul said.
He urged people to remain vigilant and follow Covid-19 appropriate behaviour like wearing masks and maintaining social distancing to save the gains that the country has achieved in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic till now.
To a query on the steps taken by the government with regard to people who returned from the UK in the past few days, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said thousands of genome sequences have been done during the pandemic.
He said that also, the Bureau of Immigration will share the names of people who had arrived from the UK or had travelled through the UK between November 25 and December 23 with states and union territories (UTs).
The State Surveillance Officer will contact, conduct tests and take action as per results, Bhushan said.
The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday also issued standard operating protocols for epidemiological surveillance. These include activities to be undertaken at the point of entry and in the community for all international passengers who have travelled to or through the UK in the past four weeks, from November 25 to December 23.
Over the likelihood of a vaccine becoming available in January and the status of the applications by Pfizer, Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech seeking emergency authorisation of their Covid-19 vaccines, Paul said the three applications are pending with the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).
Pfizer, he said, has not submitted data yet while more data has been sought from the other firms. One of the companies has provided new data, Paul said.
"Data is being examined. But this process is sacrosanct, driven by scientific norms, procedures and let's see where it takes us. Once there is a decision by the drug regulator and the scientific groups that help take the decision we will move forward," he said.
Pointing out that countries like the US, Brazil, the UK, Russia and Germany are showing new peaks in Covid cases, Bhushan said, "In comparison, India's trajectory has shown a sustained decline in Covid-19 cases since mid-September."
“India has reported 124 Covid-19 cases per million population in the last seven days as against the global figure of 588. India has reported two Covid-19 deaths per million population in the last seven days as against the global figure of 10 deaths," he said.
The average daily new cases have also shown a continuous decline from 46,301 during the first week of November to 24,135 this week. The average daily deaths have also come down from 556 during the first week of November to 343 this week, he said.
Bhushan said that 26 states and UTs have less than 10,000 active cases of Covid-19.
Sixty-one per cent of Covid-19 deaths reported in a span of 24 hours were from Maharashtra, West Bengal, Kerala, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, he said.
While, 57 per cent cases reported during the same period were from Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, the health secretary said.