By Jonathan Corum for The New York Times | Source: Andrew Rambaut et al., Covid-19 Genomics Consortium U.K.
The hallmark of any virus is its ability to mutate and escape the immune system of its host. The novel coronavirus is like any other virus, mutating to protect itself. The reason there is no known treatment or vaccine for the common cold (also caused by one of the coronaviruses) is due to its ability to mutate.
The SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 virus has proved its credentials as a coronavirus by changing into a new strain, VUI (Variant Under Investigation) 202012/01 or the B.1.1.7 lineage. This new strain has been isolated in the United Kingdom and is reportedly 70 per cent more infective than the original COVID-19 strain. Even more worrying is the fact that this new strain is equally infective to children and adults; unlike the earlier strain which was more infective to adults than children. The only silver lining is that the currently available vaccines would be equally effective against the new strain. Also, possibly, re-infection will not be so severe.
The new strain has been reported mostly in the UK. However, it has also been detected in Denmark, Italy, Netherlands and Australia. In view of this new threat, most of the world has shut its doors on the UK and banned travel to and from Britain.
With the availability of the vaccine, most countries had relaxed the guidelines against COVID-19. Social distancing, masking, and sanitisation (SMS) had taken a back seat as people strove to get back to normal life. Everyone thought the vaccine would protect them. The advent of this new virus strain is like a slap on the face. People need to understand that the best prevention against COVID- 19 still remains the (by now) age-old method of SMS.
After several European and Gulf countries suspended flights from the United Kingdom due to fears about a new strain of COVID-19, the Indian government, on 21 December, also suspended flights from the UK till 31 December. The ministry of civil aviation tweeted on Monday, "Considering the prevailing situation in the UK. Govt. of India has decided that all flights originating from UK to India will be suspended till 31st December 2020 (11:59 pm), This suspension to start with effect from 11:59 pm on 22nd December 2020. Consequently flights from India to UK shall stand temporarily suspended during above said period (sic)."
Meanwhile Telangana and Andhra Pradesh has announced to test and trace passengers who returned from the United Kingdom and also passed orders to test all international passengers landing in the respected states.
Dr Ravi Andrews can be contacted online via apollo 24/7 app.