New Delhi, Feb 16 : In view of five cases of Covid-19 caused by mutant variants emerging in South Africa and Brazil being found in India, the Union Health Ministry on Tuesday said that it is in discussions with the Civil Aviation Ministry to see if the strategy of controlling air traffic from the two nations, as was done following the detection of the UK variant, could be implemented here as well.
“Unlike the UK, flights do not come directly to India from Brazil and South Africa. These passengers mostly take transit routes from Gulf nations in order to reach India. So we have to see if the air traffic needs to be restricted. We are in discussion with the (Civil) Aviation Ministry on this,” Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said.
The measures of testing, tracing, treatment and genome sequencing are likely to be followed to track the returnees from Brazil and South African countries who could possibly be carrying the mutants strains found there, he said.
“From the experience of the UK variant, we have learnt to conduct 100 per cent RT-PCR tests on all the returnees and their contacts if they found positive with the Covid-19. Genome sequencing of those testing positive as well as isolation and quarantine measures were also followed. We are also going to follow these to contain the spread from mutant strains emerging in SA and Brazil as well,” Bhushan said.
The ministry had earlier disclosed that it has found 5 returnees from South Africa and Brazil infected from the variant found in these countries.
ICMR Director General, Prof Balram Bhargava, said that 192 cases of the new variants of mutated SARS-CoV-2 have been found here in last two months, including four of the South African variant, one of the Brazilian variant and 187 of the UK variant.
About the SA variant, better known as B.1.351, Bharagava said that its cases were reported in January in four returnees from African countries. “One case was found in a person who returned from Angola, one from Tanzania and rest from persons who returned from South Africa,” he said.
The SA variant has spread to 44 countries and the National Institute of Virology, Pune is attempting to isolate and culture the mutated virus here. Meanwhile, the Brazilian variant or P.1 lineage, has been found in the first week of February in a person who returned from the South American country recently. The strain has spread to 15 countries, however, it has been successfully isolated and cultured at the NIV in India.
Giving more details on the variants, Bhargava said that the SA and Brazilian variants are different from the UK and probably more potent than the former. “The large mutations in the UK variant were found in the spike protein while in SA and Brazil variants, multiple mutations have been found in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein,” he said.
“We have seen that both variants (SA and Brazilian) are able to enter lungs easily since they can easily bind with ACE 2 receptors found in the organ. This property makes the Brazilian and SA variant more potent than the UK one,” he said.
While he noted that no mortality has been reported so far in the cases who contracted the UK variant as well as those who are infected by the variants from South Africa and Brazil, Bhargava also said that the efficacy of vaccines are to be examined on the latter ones.