The World Health Organization on Monday said the new strain of the coronavirus, prevalent in the United Kingdom, was not out of control yet, and could be controlled using existing measures, reported AFP.
Around 30 countries, including India, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Argentina and Chile, banned flights to the UK amid concerns that the new coronavirus strain seems to spread more easily. However, experts say it is unclear if that is the case or whether they pose any concern for vaccines or lead to more severe infections.
“We have had a much higher [contamination rate] at different points in this pandemic and we’ve got it under control,” WHO’s Emergencies Programme Director Michael Ryan said during a media briefing on Monday. “So this situation is not in that sense out of control. But it cannot be left to its own devices.”
Ryan said the emergence of a new strain of the coronavirus meant that “we have to work harder”. “Even if the virus has become a little bit more efficient in spreading, the virus can be stopped,” he added.
New strain may be present in many countries: WHO chief scientist
The world body’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said that the mutant strain may already be present in many countries. However, she noted that it was still too early to conclude anything about the new strain.
“The UK is one of those countries that is doing a lot of whole genome sequencing and is therefore able to track this very closely in real time,” Swaminathan told NDTV. “I suspect that as more countries look at their data, they might find this variant, or a related variant, might already be there.”
She added that there had been mutations of other virus in the past that turned into the dominant variant later. “This may just be another such variant,” she said, adding that it was unlikely that a few mutations in the “spike protein” could change the immune system’s response to the vaccine.
The WHO official said that countries should do more sequencing, and that India had a huge capability for conducting whole genome sequencing, which is one of the important ways to develop an effective vaccine, reported NDTV. “In fact, India is already contributing quite a lot to a global database that has close to 3,00,000 sequences,” she said.
Mutant strain of coronavirus
UK’s public health officials said the new variant, which has been identified and is known as VUI, was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent. By December, it had become the “dominant variant” in London. Nearly a third of England’s population entered a lockdown, days before Christmas, as authorities warned that the new strain of the virus was going “out of control”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had on Saturday said the new strain “may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant” although there was no evidence it was more deadly or led to a more severe illness.