India’s neighbours- Sri Lanka and Bangladesh- have reported the first cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus, also known as B.1.617, prompting authorities to exercise caution to contain its spread. Bangladesh overnight detected six people, who had recently visited India, infected with the Indian variant of the COVID-19, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) spokesman Professor Dr Nazmul Islam Munna said on Saturday.
Out of the six people, two were detected in the national capital Dhaka. All of them are currently kept under quarantine.
“Six people have been found to be carrying the Indian variant so far and we expect more people to be detected with identical types of virus in the coming days,” Munna said. “This development means we in Bangladesh need extreme caution, perfect compliance of health guidelines. If we maintain the guidelines, no variant — deadly or not — can cause major problems,” Munna said.
Following the detection of the Indian variant, Bangladesh on Saturday extended the closure of land borders with India for 14 more days. Last month, Bangladesh sealed its borders with India due to the raging number of coronavirus cases in the neighbouring country. But officials and reports said many people came to Bangladesh from India under special arrangements and some of them fled a mandatory quarantine, heightening risks of spreading the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka on Saturday detected its first case of the Indian variant of coronavirus in a person who recently returned from India. The Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine of the University of Sri Jayewardenapura in a report said the infected person was found at a quarantine center for returnees in Colombo.
The sample was among several other samples obtained for testing until April 30. Both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases. Sri Lanka on Friday recorded 19 deaths, the highest number of fatalities in a single day. The total number of deaths in the country due to COVID-19 stands at 764. The country has over 121,000 coronavirus infections.
Bangladesh reported 45 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of fatalities to 11,878. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the country stands at 772,127 with 1,285 fresh infections reported on Saturday. The B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV2 or the ‘Indian strain’, feared to be contributing to a surge in coronavirus cases in India, has been designated as the Variants of Interest (VOI) by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN health agency said in its weekly epidemiological update last month.
In its report, the WHO had said that the Indian strain of the coronavirus has been found in at least 17 countries. The B.1.617 variant has three new spike protein mutations. Two mutations — E484Q and L452R — are in the area important for antibody-based neutralisation. The third mutation — P681R — allows the virus to enter cells a little better. These are defining characteristics of the variant.
The B.1.617 variant has been found prevalent largely in Maharashtra and Delhi that has been severely hit by a devastating second wave of the pandemic. Experts have said that the Indian strain of the coronavirus carries higher transmissibility similar to the UK variant, but there is little evidence so far of it being more lethal than the original virus.
Anurag Agrawal, the Director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) said, “As far as we know, neither the UK variant nor this one (B.1.617) is associated with increased severity of illness or death. The UK strain is proven to have higher transmissibility and B.1.617 may have increased transmissibility.”
“But this (that the B.1.617 variant has more transmissibility) has not been proven and there are several characterises to prove it and the studies have not been completed,” he said. The original India variant – officially known as B.1.617 – was first detected in October. Last month, UK’s Public Health England (PHE) had categorised two further subtypes to that – B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3.
Experts believe that of the three, variant B.1.617.2 is at least as transmissible as the so-called Kent variant, which had been detected in England at the end of last year and led to the UK’s second wave surge in coronavirus infections earlier this year. Meanwhile, health authorities in England on Friday elevated one subtype of the so-called Indian variant from under investigation to a Variant of Concern (VOC) following a rise in the number of cases in the UK and evidence of community transmission.
The B.1.617.2, classified as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on April 28, is now known as VOC-21APR-02 after it was found to be at least as transmissible as the so-called Kent variant, detected in England last year and the dominant variant in the UK so far.
(With PTI inputs)