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ALERT- South Africa Covid variant triggers alert in India

The UK, Singapore and Israel have stopped flights from South Africa, Botswana and four other African nations.

NEW DELHI- Hours after South African authorities announced they had detected a new variant of the novel  coronavirus  variant – B.1.1.529, the Union Health Ministry on Thursday directed states to rigorously screen and test travellers coming from or transiting through three countries in which the variant had been confirmed — South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong.

In a communication to all states and Union Territories, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said India’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has informed the government that “multiple cases of a Covid-19 variant B.1.1529 have been reported in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Hong Kong (1 case)”.

The B.1.1.529 variant has 50 mutations overall, including more than 30 on the spike protein alone. The spike protein is the target of most current COVID-19 vaccines and is what the virus uses to unlock access to our body’s cells. Researchers are still trying to confirm whether this makes it more transmissible or lethal than earlier variants.

First identified in South Africa this week, the strain has spread to nearby countries, including Botswana, where fully vaccinated people have been infected. In South Africa over 100 cases have been linked to this variant, with four more in Botswana.

Two cases have been detected in Hong Kong – where travellers (who got the Pfizer jab) from parts of southern Africa were isolated in separate rooms.

The UK, Singapore and Israel have stopped flights from South Africa, Botswana and four other African nations. Germany and Italy have also banned most travel from South Africa, news agency AFP said.

The World Health Organization has called for caution in the initial stages of dealing with this variant; more research needs to be conducted to understand how B.1.1.529 behaves, the global health body said.

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