Beware and prepareReports of a variant of the coronavirus have sparked fresh worries amid an ongoing pandemic.
A growing number of countries are reporting infections with the potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus. The new strain, first reported in the United Kingdom, is said to be up to 70 percent more contagious. It is spreading swiftly in the UK according to British scientists who say new containment measures may be necessary to reduce further spread.
Additional variants have been detected in South Africa, Spain, Denmark and other countries, but scientists say the two variants detected in the UK and South Africa are more contagious, and have over a dozen mutations. The new variants are believed to affect young people more and even re-infect people. It has sparked fresh worries and uncertainty amid an ongoing pandemic. Many questions remain unanswered, including if the current vaccines rolled out or in development will work against these variants.
According to the World Health Organisation, an assessment determining how dangerous the variants are would require two months or more of additional research, but Nepal would have to brace for a disastrous situation if such contagious variants are detected in the country. If it serves any warning at all, the new variants in the UK and South Africa have been linked to the recent Covid-19 surge and increased hospitalisation rates.
To put it clearly, Nepal is back to square one. Instead of avoiding blunders and preparing for the worst, the Oli administration made ad-hoc decisions, one after another, which continue to jeopardise our situation. Late on Sunday, the Health Emergency Operation Centre under the Ministry of Health and Population delisted private hospitals as Covid-19 designated hospitals, citing sufficient beds, intensive care units and ventilators in public hospitals. The government is also closing quarantine and isolation centres, but the pandemic rages on with the country’s next to no intervention measures, which worries epidemiologists and public health agencies.
The cause for worry, given our experience since the onset of the pandemic in the country, is startling. By now, we all know that all it takes is one single infected person, and the situation can quickly turn murky if we overlook precautionary measures and ignore science-guided response to contain the pandemic. While scientists researching the two new variants of the coronavirus have not established if they cause a more severe illness or higher mortality, what is clear is that these variants are more contagious and lead to more person-to-person transmission.
Last week, Nepal banned all flights from the UK and issued an advisory asking returnees from there to mandatorily quarantine for 10 days. Our experience has shown that we don’t have an efficient mechanism to monitor whether people are following the quarantine advisory or not. The chances are also high that the new variants could easily make their way here from India, if they are not already here, and spread undetected throughout the country as we witnessed earlier this year.
The government must not delay increasing the number of tests and step up contact tracing, which are science-backed guidelines to contain the pandemic. Additionally, it should conduct virus genome sequencing of one out of every 300 new infections recommended by the World Health Organisation. There is a possibility that similar variants could have developed in the country as Nepal’s seroprevalence survey shows that 13 percent of the population has already been exposed to Covid-19 until September.
While several unknowns remain, the response drill to contain the pandemic is the same. Both the government and the public must realise that if we ignore precautionary measures and act against time-tested strategies to contain the pandemic, the virus will get the better of us, variants or not.