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New UK Covid strain: India needs to stay vigilant, say experts

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New Delhi, Jan 24, 2021-
With reports now showing the new UK Covid-19 strain to be not just more infectious but also associated with a higher degree of mortality, health experts have cautioned that Indians need not panic over the mutations, but the country needs to stay vigilant.

So far 150 people in India have tested positive for the UK variant of coronavirus, according to the Union Health Ministry on Saturday.

This is despite India temporarily suspending all flights from the UK for about a week earlier in the month and also increasing screening measures for travellers from that country later.

However, India’s total active case-load has continued to show downward movement over the past few weeks as the numbers on Saturday dropped to 1.85 lakh.

India’s present active case-load consists of just 1.74 per cent of India’s total positive cases.

But the fear of the new UK strain spreading faster in the country has become a cause for concern in some quarters.

“We have now learned that, in addition to spreading more quickly, the new variant of the virus may also be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” UK PM Boris Johnson said in a tweet on Friday.

However, health experts here have said that Indians have no reason to panic.

“The new strain of the Covid virus is among one of the new strains that will come up in the future. So the approach to ensure prevention of infection from these strains is to always be vigilant and maintain measures of social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask,” Richa Sareen, Consultant, Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, told.

“The new vaccine is known to be protective against these new strains, as well. So there is no need to panic,” Sareen said, advising people to just keep calm and adopt preventive measures.

The government is “taking adequate measures of quarantining the people who come in from outside and of doing gene sequencing, and then isolating these patients separately,” she pointed out.

The UK prime Minister also said that the current vaccines are still effective against the new variant.

“We should be vigilant about it (the new UK variant) as we have done in the past, but we need not panic as vaccination process also started and from what we have learnt from the experts, the present vaccine is good enough for the new variants also,” said Arun Kumar P, Senior Consultant at Apollo Telehealth.

He said that new variants are common in this group of viruses as is the case with influenza virus.

“The right approach to deal with this is to have regular monitoring of new cases and to be alert if there are any large clusters of cases at single place and taking samples from there for genomic sequencing and to impose strict measures in such areas till results are out to avoid further spread of new strain if one such is existent,” he said.

“It is also important to complete the process of the vaccination at the earliest which will achieve the desired goal of elimination of virus from the community.”

Puneet Khanna, HOD and consultant, Respiratory Medicine, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals in Dwarka, New Delhi, however warned that if the new strain spreads in the community, it will definitely lead to a surge of Covid cases again.

“The approach to dealing with these threats is that we should be having the same kind of precautions which had earlier,” Khanna said.

“That is that we should observe strict social distancing, frequent hand washing and cover our face and mouth while sneezing and talking. Also, always wear masks in public places or in closed places.”

Moreover, people who are especially vulnerable to the disease should still avoid going to public places and follow other preventive measures.

India has so far vaccinated over 15 lakh people against Covid-19. (Agency)

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