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New Covid strain emerges, the government on alert.

The Union Health Ministry of India has issued an alert after a new variant of the novel coronavirus had recently been detected by scientists in South Africa. The B.1.1.529 variant of the virus is being characterized as fast-spreading and a very unusual cluster of mutations, including the Delta variant.

First identified in Botswana this month, it was then found in Hong Kong by travellers who visited South Africa. This new variant is attacking the vaccine's effectiveness, even though not much is known except that there are at least 100 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.529 variant at present, mostly in Gauteng, South Africa.

The central government in India has issued letters to all additional chief secretaries, principal secretaries, and health secretaries of Union Territories and state, mentioning that all the travellers entering from "at-risk" countries (Hong Kong, Botswana, and South Africa) must be subjected to strict screening and testing. Then the sample from those travellers who have turned positive for the new variant has to be sent to INSACOG Genome Sequencing Labs.

Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan has also asked state surveillance officers to closely coordinate with their designated genome labs for genomic analysis and to ensure necessary public health measures, in case of the new variant’s presence, given the recently relaxed visa restrictions and resumption of international travel.

The World Health Organization (WHO) will organize an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the new strain. The UK has announced a temporary ban on flights from 6 countries, stating that the new variant has a spike variant that is completely different from the original covid-19, on which the vaccines are based.

The key question now is its severity, which is still unknown. However, Aris Katzourakis, who studies virus evolution at Oxford University advises countries where Delta was/is prevalent, to look out for the new strain and to wait and watch for its prevalence.

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