Six cases of Covid-19 caused by Sars-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01 (or B.1.1.7 as some are calling it) have been diagnosed in India. All six are patients who flew in from the United Kingdom during the last week, who tested positive for the virus, and whose samples were then sent for genome sequencing which confirmed the presence of the mutant strain – it has up to 23 mutations – of the coronavirus that was once first sequenced in the United Kingdom in September. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone (during the last week, I’ve repeatedly emphasised that there’s a high likelihood of the variant already being in India). The new strain is the predominant one in the United Kingdom, particularly London; there have been 70 flights a week from the United Kingdom to India since May; and until final Monday, when it was once tightened, the screening process for passengers arriving in India was once a sham (it had started off polite, but, through the years, came to rely more on documentation and self-declaration and no more on the actual screening itself).
The identification of the new strain here must spur health authorities in India to aggressively tip all those who travelled to India from the United Kingdom during the last month (at the least). Some of them could also be asymptomatic carriers who have passed on the virus to others. The contact tracing process is hampered by human stupidity – a minimum of one of the crucial people who have travelled into India from the United Kingdom, it emerges, have given false addresses or phone numbers; some recent travellers are believed to be keeping their phones switched off in order that they cannot be reached (see page 11). This is behaviour that is potentially harmful not just to themselves and the people in their instant vicinity (family and friends), but the public at large.
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Dispatch 233, on December 28, explained that researchers in the United Kingdom have found out that the new strain is 56% more infective than the old one. It isn’t known if the mutant strain causes more severe cases of Covid-19 or ends up in more fatalities, but this is if truth be told irrelevant. The mere fact that the variant is more infective is enough: this logically means more cases of the coronavirus disease. Even assuming that the rate of hospitalisations and deaths does not change at all for the new variant (and is precisely the same as it is for Sars-CoV-2), the higher number of cases (caused by the higher infectiveness of the variant) will intent more hospitalisations and more deaths. And even assuming the proportion of hospitalisations that turns into severe cases remains fixed, it means an increase in the number of severe cases. Indeed, because the higher infectiveness means more infections, which means that even more infections, and so forth, in a classic exponential progression, the new strain results in a scenario which ends up in more deaths than even an increase in the case fatality rate would. That’s all of the more reason for health authorities here to tip and isolate, something that most states have develop into pretty careless approximately, with the number of day by day new cases falling. India ended Monday with just around 270,000 active cases, according to the HT dashboard (america has 7.7 million).
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India is the 21st country to have identified the new variant of the virus. The others are: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Israel, Canada, Lebanon, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, and France. There is another strain, which shares some characteristics of B.1.1.7 that has been identified in South Africa and Nigeria. Over the class lesson of the week, the final of the year, more countries will identify the United Kingdom strain in people testing positive, just as India itself will see more cases caused by the new strain. It’s a year-end challenge that the country must negotiate carefully.