New variant of coronavirus has spread in more than 33 countries but authorities are watching arrivals only from the UKNepal had directed all airlines not to bring passengers from the United Kingdom or those transiting through the country but people from the UK are arriving through transit in other countries.
A new variant of the coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom has been seen in at least 33 countries around the globe but the authorities in Nepal are focussing on the people returning from the UK only.
The Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre has been placing people returning from the United Kingdom to hotel quarantine while letting arrivals from other countries go home.
“We have asked all the people returning from abroad to stay in home isolation for 10 days and placed those returning from the UK in hotel quarantine,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief Specialist at the Ministry of Health and Population, told the Post. “We will take new decisions about the quarantine of people returning from other countries after holding meetings with the stakeholders.”
At least 200 people have returned from the UK after the detection of the new variant of the coronavirus. Of them several returnees tested positive for the coronavirus. Swab samples of all those who tested positive have been sent for a whole-genome sequencing test to know if the virus detected was regular or the new variant.
Whole-genome sequencing is a comprehensive analysis of the entire DNA sequences of an organism’s genes. Researchers believe that the whole-genome sequencing of the coronavirus could be instrumental in tracking the severity and properties of the virus.
Public health experts said that the authorities concerned are too slow to recognise the risk level and their current efforts could not stop the new variant of virus from entering the country.
“The new variant of the virus has been detected even in China, India and Pakistan,” Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post. “Focussing only on the people returning from the UK and letting others go home shows that we learned nothing from our mistakes and failures.”
The existence of a new and highly transmissible coronavirus variant was announced by the UK’s health secretary on 14 December, after Covid-testing laboratories reported that a growing number of their positive samples were missing a signal from one of the three genes their PCR tests use to confirm the presence of the virus.
On December 22, authorities in Nepal had directed all international airlines not to bring passengers from the United Kingdom or those transiting through the country from December 24 onwards.
But despite the direction, people are returning from the UK through transit in other countries.
Even as the virus has reached more than 33 countries across the globe, authorities have been focusing only on those returning from the UK.
According to the Business Insider, the new variant of coronavirus has been detected in the UK, the Netherlands, France, Japan, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Canada, Lebanon, Singapore, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, India, South Korea, Finland, Pakistan, the United States, Turkey, Belgium, Chile, Brazil, Malta, Norway, Portugal, China, Taiwan, Iceland, Ireland, Israel and Jordan.
To make matters worse, no one monitors whether or not the people returning from abroad are staying in quarantine or isolation.
Doctors say that lack of monitoring of the infected people to see if they are staying in quarantine is one of the reasons for the high prevalence of the coronavirus in communities.
“All people returning from abroad should be placed in quarantine and some agencies tasked with monitoring them,” Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an infectious disease and critical care expert, told the Post. “The authorities should also take initiatives to bring technology to perform whole-genome sequencing of the virus.”
In the absence of the facility to perform whole-genome sequencing tests in the country, authorities are unaware whether or not the virus has entered the country.
Much is yet to be known about the new variant as it was detected just a few weeks ago but according to the BBC, the new variant of the virus detected in the UK could be 70 percent more infectious than others circulating across the world.
South Africa is also struggling to contain a new wave of coronavirus infections, possibly linked to a genetic mutation of the virus.
Scientists studying new variants of the virus believe that the South African variant is more contagious than that seen in the UK and may affect young people more, and could be slightly more resistant to existing vaccines. There are also concerns that the South African variant could “re-infect” people who have already recovered from Covid-19.
Dr Adhikari said that even if the new variant of the virus seen in the UK is less severe than the regular one, a lot of people will be infected, which means health facilities will be overwhelmed within a few days if the virus spreads.
“Elderly people and those having underlying conditions will be at risk even if the virus is less severe to other groups,” Adhikari added.