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B.1.617: How Contagious is the Indian “Variant of Concern”

On Wednesday 19 May, India set a COVID-19 record of 4,500 deaths, surpassing a figure set by the United States on January 20 of 4,400. Howe...

On Wednesday 19 May, India set a COVID-19 record of 4,500 deaths, surpassing a figure set by the United States on January 20 of 4,400.

However, the good news is the news cases appear to be on the decline, from a peak of 414,000 recorded on May 6. 

And while the B.1.617 variant is more transmissible; research has proved that the current COVID-19 vaccines will offer strong protection.

The variant has pushed the ongoing crisis in Indian and Nepal is believed to be more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, but it has not been proven that it causes more severe disease or more deaths. 

Experts say social distancing, and masks can prevent the spread of the virus.

According to recent research, “While it might have some impact on the vaccines, its mutations will likely not be enough to weaken protection against serious illness.”

Now nicknamed the “double mutant”, Deepta Bhattacharya, an associate professor of immunobiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine said it is completely unhelpful. 
The B.1.617 Variant has Spread to 44 Countries in the World 

All identified variants are of concern — including the B.1.1.7 from the U.K., the B.1.351 from South Africa and the P.1 from Brazil — possess one or more mutations, he said.

“It's misleading to make it seem as if this is something markedly different than the other variants that we've already seen.”

Shane Crotty, a virologist and professor at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology remains optimistic despite the spread of the variant across the globe.

“The fact that there are real-world data that shows the Pfizer vaccine works very well against the South African variant, it's quite likely that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be very effective against these new Indian variants, as well,” Crotty said.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from Qatar found the Pfizer vaccine to be 97 percent effective in preventing severe disease and death in patients infected by any form of the coronavirus, including the variants.

Initially identified in October, the B.1.617 variant has now spread to 44 countries, including Zimbabwe.

The government of Zimbabwe announced that the devastating variant was identified, after genomic sequencing tests in the country. 

 “Genomic sequencing test was carried out on samples collected from a reported focalised outbreak in Kwekwe which was linked to a traveller from India on the 29th of April 2021, a high risk Covid-19 transmission area,” the health minister announced.

“The test conducted revealed that the B.1.617 variant predominantly from India was detected at the focalised outbreak in Kwekwe. The nation is therefore advised that this variant B.1. 617 is now in Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe has witnessed a spiral in the COVID-19 case in recent months, and the state will conduct strict testing and quarantining travellers. 

“People travelling from or transiting from India will be subject to mandatory quarantine at a designated quarantine centre and at their own cost,” the health minister said.

“These travellers will be subjected to a Covid-19 test on arrival despite the status of their travelling certificate. Travellers coming into the country from other countries should present a Covid-19 PCR test done not more than 48 hours from the time of departure, failure of which this will be done on arrival at one’s expense.”

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has been ranked as leading the COVID-19 vaccination in Africa. To date, 600,579 had been vaccinated for the first time, 231,375 had their second jab, bringing the total to 831,954 doses. 

Harare has so far procured vaccines for almost 900,000 people. The number of people vaccinated accounts for 3 percent of the population.

South Africa has obtained 825,000 and administered 478,733, translating to 1,39 percent of its population. Mozambique has also achieved 1,39 percent vaccination. 

“The Government of Zimbabwe has a target to vaccinate 60 percent of its population which will provide herd immunity,” the health minister said.

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