Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan has assured the Indian people there is “no need to panic” regarding the mutant COVID-19 strain that has emerged in the United Kingdom.
The mutant COVID-19 strain prompted a wave of tighter restrictions in the country and has already been found beyond its borders. The mutant strain, dubbed B.1.1.7, “is very concerning, and is unlike anything we have seen so far in the pandemic” according to Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute cited in The Financial Times.
As explained by The British Medical Journal, the mutant COVID-19 strain “is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations. One of the most significant is an N501Y mutation in the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to the human ACE2 receptor. Changes in this part of spike protein may, in theory, result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people.” Nick Loman, professor of microbial genomics and bioinformation at the University of Birmingham, said “there is striking growth in this variant, which is why we are worried, and it needs urgent follow-up and investigation.”
Concerns over the mutant COVID-19 strain has prompted the Union Health Ministry in India to convene a meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group on Monday. The meeting will be chaired by the Director-General of Health Services and include experts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO’s India representative Dr Roderico H Ofrin is also expected to attend.
Vardhan has assured the nation there is no need for alarm. “The government is alert,” he said during a press conference. “There is no need to panic. Do not get yourself tangled in…[an] imaginary situation, talks and panic.”
Multiple European countries and Saudi Arabia have banned flights to and from the United Kingdom in response to the mutant COVID-19 strain. India has yet to do as an official policy decision. Some, however, such as Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal have called for such a measure. “New mutation of coronavirus has emerged in UK, which is a super-spreader,” he tweeted. “I urge central govt to ban all flights from UK immediately.”