What do the new travel guidelines say? Are the existing vaccines in India effective against these strains? The story so far: The central government this week confirmed the presence of three mutant variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – from South Africa (four cases), Brazil (one case) and the UK (187 cases). Following this, the government released a new set of guidelines for international travel. The new rules, which take effect at 11:59 p.m. on February 22, were released on Wednesday and state that “based on the risk assessment, this document will be reviewed from time to time.” Why are the new strains of concern? The World Health Organization reports that the new variants demonstrate increased transmissibility. Strains from the UK, South Africa and Brazil have so far been detected in 86, 44 and 15 countries respectively. “As India has stabilized its active cases of COVID-19, these new strains and any laxity could lead to an increase in the number,” said VK Paul, member of NITI Aayog. Challenges in developing and testing variant vaccines What do the new travel guidelines say? Although India does not have direct flights from South Africa and Brazil, all international travelers to or in transit by flights from the UK, Europe and West Asia are kept an online self-report form, file a negative COVID-19 report and mention their travel history within the past 14 days. They should also indicate whether they plan to disembark at the arrival airport or take other flights in India. Airlines should identify travelers arriving or transiting through the UK, South Africa and the Brazil and separate them during the trip and during disembarkation. These travelers will have to hand in their samples for testing before leaving the airport. If they test positive, they should undergo treatment according to standard health protocol, the SOP says. The guidelines specify that contacts of suspected cases are co-passengers seated in the same row, three rows in the front and three rows behind, as well as identified cabin crew. Community contacts of travelers who tested positive (during the home quarantine period) would be subject to institutional quarantine in separate quarantine centers for 14 days and tested in accordance with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) protocol. – a pre-trip declaration form and upload a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR report, the test having been carried out 72 hours before starting the trip. Passengers must also submit a declaration of authenticity of the report, and if found otherwise, they will be subject to criminal prosecution. Only those traveling to India for emergencies, such as the death of a family member, will be allowed to arrive without a negative report. But they would have to apply for an exemption on the online portal 72 hours before boarding. Coronavirus | According to a scientist, the Department of Health and Family Welfare, in consultation with the Department of Civil Aviation, said it released the guidelines after reviewing the situation regarding actions at the point of entry and what these measures have to minimize the risk of importation of mutant strains of the virus How many cases has India recorded? ICMR said the South African variant, which first appeared independently in the country in mid-December 2020, had undergone multiple mutations, including in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein. . Currently, the majority of cases in South Africa are due to this variant. In India, the strain was detected in four different South African returnees in January 2021 – one each from Angola and Tanzania, and two from South Africa, ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said, adding that the first six cases of the British strain were reported in India in the last week of December 2020.Coronavirus | On the Brazilian strain, ICMR noted that it emerged independently in Brazil in early January 2021 and is linked to the increase in cases in Brazil, especially in Manaus. “Mutations in the receptor binding domain of the spike protein were detected and this showed increased transmissibility. India detected a case of this variant strain in a returnee from Brazil during the first week of February, ”said Dr Bhargava. Are the existing vaccines in India effective against these strains? On the UK variant, ICMR said the neutralization potential matches other heterologous virus strains in India and the vaccines we have available. For the other two variants, research is in progress. “The National Institute of Virology (NIV) at ICMR is attempting to isolate and cultivate the South African strain,” said Dr Bhargava. The Brazilian strain has been isolated and cultivated successfully at ICMR-NIV, Pune and experiments to assess the vaccine’s efficacy are underway, he added. Clinical trials indicate Indian vaccines will be effective against COVID-19 variants: ICMR How are variants monitored? To regularly monitor genomic variations of SARS-CoV-2 through a multi-laboratory network, India has set up the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), comprising 10 laboratories. “The consortium will verify the status of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country, establish sentinel surveillance for the early detection of genomic variants with public health implication, and determine genomic variants in unusual events / trends ( super – spread events, areas of high mortality / morbidity trend, etc.), ”Dr Bhargava said. “The knowledge generated by this essential research consortium will also help develop potential diagnostics and therapies and vaccines in the future.” This story is available exclusively for The Hindu subscribers only. The benefits of the subscription include the daily newspaper. Find a mobile version of daily newspaper articles in an easy-to-read list. Unlimited Access Enjoy reading as many articles as you want without any limitations. 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