Rajat Sharma

New variant of Coronavirus: Utmost caution is the need of the hour

AKBThere was growing alarm among nations across the globe after scientists in the United Kingdom identified a new mutant version of the deadly Coronavirus spreading among people in southern England. The emergence of this new variant has led to a surge in Covid cases in the UK, and on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government clamped stringent Level 4 restrictions in large parts of London and the nearby boroughs.

More than 35,000 new Covid cases have been reported in the UK with most of the new cases from London and nearby boroughs. The new variant strain has been detected in nearly 95 per cent of the new cases. Children are as vulnerable to the new strain as the elderly. One epidemiologist at Imperial College, London said there is a hint that the new mutant has a higher propensity to infect children.

As news reached Europe, nearly two dozen European countries including France, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland Spain and Russia, and countries like Jordan Hong Kong, Israel and South Africa banned flights to and from UK with immediate effect.

India, on Monday announced there will be a ban on flights to and from UK with effect from Tuesday midnight till December 31 due to latest developments.

The new variant of Coronavirus is said to be 70 per cent more transmissible than the old variant. In plain language, if the Covid-19 virus took nearly five minutes to travel from one person to another, the new virus could infect a person within 30-40 seconds. It spreads so suddenly that it is difficult to control it.

The new variant was first noticed in southeast England, according to World Health Organization. It came to the attention of researchers when it appeared more frequently in samples from parts of south England. The samples were collected as early as September from patients who were infected with Covid-19. The new variant has eight mutations on the spike protein that viruses use to attach to and infect cells inside the body. Vaccines and anti-body drugs target these spike proteins, but it is still not clear whether the vaccines that have been developed will work on the new variant. This new variant is more contagious and spreading fast, because of which nations across the world are putting up barriers to stop their influx.

In view of the panic, Christmas celebrations on the streets in UK and European countries have almost come to an end even before they began. Markets in London and other European cities, that were packed with shoppers till last week, now offer a gloomy picture. The famous shopping districts of London like Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square, now give a desolate look. These markets were brimming with shoppers till Saturday, when the UK government announced clamping of stringent Level 4 lockdown rules due to the spread of the new variant. Nearly 1.80 crore people have been forced to stay indoors in the UK because of the new restrictions.

Thousands of trucks to and from France have been held up at the port of Dover, after the French authorities imposed restrictions. Later the restrictions were waived on export of essential items like food and water to the UK. The Eurostar train services from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam have been discontinued for two days. Italy has barred entry of nationals who have stayed at least two weeks in the UK. Those who have already reached Italy have been quarantined.

India has made RT-PCR tests mandatory for all passengers coming from the UK. Maharashtra government has imposed night curfew in Mumbai and all major cities of the state from December 22 till January 5 from 11 pm to 6 am. Buses and taxis have been excluded from this night curfew. All passengers coming from the UK, Europe and Middle East will be quarantined on arrival. Nearly 2,000 BMC doctors and nurses will be deployed to carry out tests on passengers.

It is really tragic that even before the Covid vaccine has been introduced on a massive scale, a fresh trouble has erupted with the emergence of the new variant of Coronavirus, throwing all schedules in disarray. Sitting in India, it is difficult to gauge the level of gloom and despair that has descended on families in the UK and Europe, who had been waiting for months to celebrate Christmas and New Year. The curfew is very much strict in south-eastern England, where people cannot even step out of their homes to buy essential items.

For India, there is a silver lining in the clouds of despair. For the first time since July 1, daily Covid cases has fallen below 20,000 on Monday. The number of new cases was 18,588. The shrinking tally of active cases has gone below the three lakh mark after 160 days. Maharashtra, which was the worst-hit state, recorded an active case count below 60,000 on Monday.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has said that India may start vaccinating people from January and the government’s top priority was safety and efficacy of the Covid vaccine. In the next six to seven months, India will have the capacity to inoculate nearly 30 crore people against Covid-19 virus, he said.

Till now, the new variant of Coronavirus is yet to reach our shores. Utmost caution is the need of the hour. Till the time a safe vaccine is not introduced in the country, people at large must remain vigilant and continue with wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequent washing of hands. Let all of us join hands and keep our people free from this deadly virus.

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