Considering the reports of new mutations in SARS-CoV-2 and rising number of Variants of Concern (VoCs) and Variants of Interest (Vols) globally, Indian government has imposed restrictions on passengers from additional counties.
Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked chief secretaries of states referring to the update guidelines on international travel to strengthen their Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) activities. So far passengers travelling from the UK, EU and the Middle East were required to have a negative RTPCR report before boarding a flight and thereafter a mandatory RTPCR test upon arrival was also done in India.
“Considering the risk of mutations in SARS CoV2 virus, we have added to the list of UK, EU and Middle East more countries including South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. International travellers from all these countries would now need RTPCR negative reports to get on flights to India and RTPCR testing upon arrival here,” Bhushan said during a press briefing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely monitoring a new coronavirus “variant of interest” named Mu having scientific name as B.1.621. In its weekly epidemiological update, published on Tuesday, global public health agency warned it was becoming increasingly prevalent in Colombia and Ecuador, and showed signs of possible resistance to vaccines.
Mu was first identified in Colombia in January 2021, and since then, there have been “sporadic reports” of cases and outbreaks in South America and Europe, WHO said. Mu is the fifth variant of interest to be monitored by the WHO since March. “It has a number of mutations that suggest it could be more resistant to vaccines. Further research would be needed to confirm this,” said WHO.
Preliminary data show a reduced effectiveness of vaccines “similar to that seen for the Beta variant”. The WHO said it would be monitoring “the epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant…for changes”.
However, C.1.2, is not yet a variant to follow, nor a variant of concern, according to the classification of the WHO. “It does not appear that its circulation is increasing”, said Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the WHO, during a UN press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
“States/UTs must ensure strict compliance to these Guidelines so that the import of Vols and VoCs to India from other countries may be prevented. States must strengthen their Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) activities being coordinated through the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) network of laboratories, by sending a fixed percentage of samples of positive cases among international travellers for genome sequencing to the respective INSACOG Genome Sequencing Laboratories tagged with them,” Bhushan said in a letter to Chief secretaries of the states.
“States/UTs were requested in August 2021 to ensure regular reporting of samples being sent for Whole Genome Sequencing, and clinical and outcome details through the IHIP portal. This is critical to establish the clinical-epidemiological correlations. In the case of symptomatic and/or positive international travellers, States/UTs must continue to implement stringent public health measures of contact tracing, quarantine, testing and ensuring COVID appropriate behaviour, the letter reads.
The union health ministry said that around 300 cases of delta plus variant of SARS-CoV-2 have been detected in India so far.