The challenge from new Corona variant!

The recent announcements from London that a new significant mutation of the coronavirus had taken hold in some parts of the country led to a reaction similar to the one in the early days of the pandemic. According to scientists, this new variant had more mutations than seen in any one variant before, and had spread rapidly in the country’s south-east as well as the capital. The discovery of the new COVID-19 strain B117 has led to a Christmas lockdown in London and southern England. UK prime minister Boris Johnson made the announcement regarding the new lockdown on Sunday and asked people to remain indoors during Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Several nations have also banned flights from the UK over fears of the new coronavirus strain, which experts claim is 70% more transmissible. Some of the mutations were previously linked to stronger infectivity. These three factors were enough to force the Conservative party government of Boris Johnson to announce a new lockdown in many parts of the country.
On another side, a World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist has said people can protect themselves from the new variant of the coronavirus by following social distancing rules and maintaining practices like washing hands regularly and wearing masks. The reproduction rate of the new variant has increased from 1.1 to 1.5.  The new variant has made no impact on the vaccine or vaccination process.
However, the good thing about India is that the country witnessed a significant low in COVID-19 case in the recent past. A significant fall in India’s Corona cases and death toll this past week must not lull authorities or citizens into a sense of complacency. New cases in the December 13-20 week registered a steep 17% decline over the previous week and fresh cases have now declined for the sixth straight week after India’s first wave peaked around mid-September. Last week’s death toll was also the lowest since mid-June, an indication of the progress achieved in ramping up medical facilities.
Yet India must ramp up testing again. States like Kerala, Maharashtra and Bengal with the highest number of active cases may not be testing enough. Kerala is bracing for another wave after the recent local body polls. Test positivity rate was uncomfortably high at 10% over the weekend. Punjab has the highest case fatality rate among states and must increase random testing with the farm agitation undermining social distancing norms. The need at present is to improve surveillance, understand the new threat better, and quickly make any clinical, behavioural or scientific research adjustments we need to make without panicking. The end of the toughest year of our lifetime isn’t yet the moment for letting masks down and partying.  

- Prabhakar Purandare

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