India on alert after new Covid-19 variant emerges in South Africa

New Delhi, Nov 26 (EFE).- Indian authorities have sounded an alert and called for close passenger screening after scientists in South Africa discovered a new Covid-19 variant that can mutate significantly with “serious” health implications.

The new health alert comes even as the daily number of Covid-19 cases in India has been declining, with 10,549 new infections reported on Friday, remarkably down from more than 400,000 in April-May this year when the country was at the peak of the second wave of the virus outbreak.

Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has warned state governments of possible implications of the new variant first detected in South Africa and later in at least two more countries.

“This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” Bushan said in a letter to local governments.

The top health official said the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had informed the federal government that “multiple cases of a Covid-19 variant B.1.1529 have been reported in Botswana (three cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Hong Kong (one case).”

Bhushan said all international travelers from and transiting through these countries needed to undergo rigorous screening and testing.

“The contacts of these international travelers must also be closely tracked and tested as per (federal government) guidelines.”

South African scientists have expressed concern about 30 variant mutations, as some could be more infectious and potentially override human immunity for previous strains.

India opened its borders to foreign tourists on Nov.15, nearly two years after the government closed them to contain the spread of the pandemic.

However, South Africa and Botswana are on the Indian list of the “at-risk” countries,

Travelers from these countries must undergo additional screening on arrival in India, where the daily number of coronavirus infections has remained stable around 10,000 in recent days.

On Friday, the government said 10,549 people had tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours.

It took the total number of infections to 34.5 million since the pandemic began.

But the authorities on Thursday said the drop in the number of cases could be because of fewer tests.

“In the absence of a sustained level of evidence, it is very difficult to determine the true level of the spread of the infection,” Bhushan said in the communique to states. EFE


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