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‘Worrying’, says govt as 5 cases of South Africa, Brazil Covid variants detected in India

Health Ministry says it’s in talks with Civil Aviation Ministry to test passengers from South Africa and Brazil to curb the spread of the two variants in India.

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New Delhi: Apart from the one first detected in the UK, two other SARS-CoV-2 variants have been found in India, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Dr Balram Bhargava said Tuesday.   

According to Bhargava, four cases of the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes Covid-19 — and one case of the Brazilian variant have been found in passengers from abroad. Apart from this, 187 cases of the UK variant have been detected in India. 

The cases involving the South African variant were found in January 2021, in people returning from Angola, Tanzania and South Africa, Bhargava said at the Covid briefing. The Brazil variant was found this month, he added.

“The Brazil and South African variants are different from the UK variant. In the UK variant, the spike proteins were mutated but in the other two strains the receptor binding domains are mutated… which means they can easily bind into lungs of the human body,” he said. 

While the UK variant is known to be more contagious even as it continues to be assessed, the exact characteristics of the other two are yet being determined.

Also Read: Why a ‘mucosal’ Covid vaccine has a better shot at ending the pandemic


ICMR’s apex laboratory National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, is attempting to isolate and culture the South African variant to understand its way of functioning, transmissibility, and the effect of the vaccine. 

The Brazil variant has also been successfully isolated at ICMR-NIV, he added. “Experiments to assess vaccine effectiveness are underway,” Bhargava said. 

Niti Aayog member (health) V.K. Paul added that the discovery of two more mutant coronavirus strains in the country is “worrying”. 

“The scientific discovery of the variants is worrying. We already had the UK variant. Hopefully, they don’t create a catastrophe here. Hopefully,” Paul said, adding that the Covid situation in India is under control otherwise.   

Rajesh Bhushan, secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said the government is planning to emulate a “similar strategy” to curb the spread of the two variants, as done with the UK one. 

“The experience gained from the prevention of spread of the UK variant could be used. We did RT-PCR tests for all passengers on incoming UK flights and positive samples were sent for genome sequencing. It proved to be a good strategy,” he added. 

“We may use the same strategy for flights from Brazil and South Africa. However, there are not many direct flights from these two countries, as there are from the UK. Traffic is routed via other countries, such as (those in) the Gulf region. We are talking to the aviation ministry and will share details soon,” Bhushan said.

Also Read: Why Pfizer’s Covid vaccine was not granted emergency use approval by govt’s expert panel

‘Can’t take things for granted’

Weighing in on India’s Covid situation, Paul said “things cannot be taken for granted”. The ICMR’s latest sero survey, he added, had pointed out that around 70 per cent of the population is still vulnerable. 

“We should not be waiting for the virus to infect us but we should save ourselves by getting the vaccine,” Paul said, adding that Indians must follow practices such as wearing masks, and maintaining hand hygiene and social distancing.  

Also Read: How effective are Covid vaccines? Delhi centres to test for antibodies before & after shot


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