At a time when India is witnessing a decline in the active coronavirus cases, a new mutation of COVID-19 virus strain in United Kingdom has become a "super-spreader" with 70 per cent increased transmissibility rate. However, this mutated and more aggressive strain of coronavirus has not been found in India so far, Dr VK Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog said on Tuesday.
According to the Union Health Ministry data, India's active caseload has fallen below 3 lakh (2,92,518) as of Tuesday, the lowest in 163 days.
Addressing a press conference on COVID-19 updates, Dr VK Paul said, "We are in good position and we have to keep this momentum. It will help in suppressing the virus by remaining vigilant. In UK, new mutation of virus has been seen."
"We talked to the UK research community and we came to know that the mutation has enhanced the transmissibility rate of the virus. It is being said that 70 per cent transmissibility rate has increased. We can say that the virus has become super-spreader," Dr Paul said.
"This virus mutation is not affecting the severity of the disease, neither the case fatality nor the hospitalization rate. The new strain or mutation of coronavirus seen in the United Kingdom has not been seen in India, so far. There is no cause for concern, no need to panic. As for now, we need to stay vigilant," he added.
Explaining the virus mutation, Dr Paul said, "Mutation means there is a change in RNA of the virus. The change in the virus is called drift. It has no significance. This behaviour is seen in many virus including this virus."
"Around 17 changes are seen in the virus and one change --N501Y is responsible for the virus by which it enters human cells. It increases the tendency of the virus to enter in our body. Only the tendency to infect more people has increased. It is a cause for concern. It is an adverse development in UK," Dr Paul added.
Informing about the action taken up the central government, the NITI Aayog official said, "The government is looking into it. We have robust laboratories and we are studying the genetic structure of thousands of viruses. We have not found the mutation of the virus seen in UK. Since people are travelling amid the pandemic and it was found in Australia and some countries in Europe, we have to remain vigilant."
In the wake of the UK virus mutation, the central government on Monday took a slew of measures as a matter of precaution.
"Passengers travelling to and from UK have been stopped temporarily till 31 December. Since yesterday, we have started genetic sequencing of the samples which have came in our laboratory recently," he said.
"The passengers who have came to India from UK, we are tracing them, checking their health condition and doing their covid tests. If they are found positive for the virus, we take their specimen and culture their virus and do genometic sequences," he added.
"All the incoming passengers are going through RT-PCR tests. We follow the said procedure," he said.
Pointing out that virus mutation cannot affect the development of COVID-19 vaccine, Dr Paul noted, "As of now, the new strain of COVID-19 in UK has no impact on the potential of the emerging vaccines being developed in our country and are available in other countries."
"Based on our discussions with scientists in UK, colleagues in World Health Organisation (WHO) and with our deep assessment, we can say that there is no need to panic. There is no change in the procedure and guidelines of treatment due to this mutation," said Dr Paul, adding that people need to be more vigilant.