Fast-spreading coronavirus variant reported for first time in Nepal as three UK returnees test positiveThe government had sent swab samples to the World Health Organization’s collaborating centre in Hong Kong on January 11 to ascertain if they were infected with the new variant of the virus.
According to the ministry, the World Health Organisation’s collaborating centre in Hong Kong, where swab samples of three people who had returned from the UK some three weeks ago had been sent for whole-genome sequencing, confirmed that all three people were infected with the new variant, identified as being part of the B.1.1.7 lineage.
Of the six UK returnees, who had tested positive for the coronavirus, swab samples of three people had been sent to the UN health agency’s collaborating centre in Hong Kong for whole-genome sequencing on January 11.
Those who have been tested positive for the new variant of the coronavirus are one female and two males, according to a statement issued by the ministry.
“PCR tests conducted on them showed a 28-year-old female and a 32-year-old male are negative for the coronavirus,” said the ministry. “Another male, 67, has tested positive but he is without any symptoms.”
“We have completed contact tracing of all three UK returnees who have been found to have been infected with the new variant of the coronavirus,” Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the Health Ministry told the Post over the phone. “We have already performed coronavirus tests on those who came in their close contact.”
According to officials, if they test positive, they have to be tested to ascertain if they are infected with the new variant of the coronavirus.
As the rapid spread of the new variant in many countries including the United States and Australia has become a cause for concern, Nepal said detection of the variant in the three persons shows the threat is not over yet.
“This incident shows that risk of infections has not decreased,” said Gautam. “We should continue to follow all the safety measures.”
According to various reports, there is no evidence to suggest that the new variant makes the infection more deadly, but it does spread fast, which is a cause for concern as it means more people can get infected quickly, that would in turn lead to more people needing hospital treatment. Some studies suggest that patients infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant may have a higher viral load leading them to expel more virus-containing particles when they breathe, talk or sneeze.
The new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in Nepal just when the country is completing its first year since reporting the first coronavirus case.
Even as various countries have rolled out their vaccination drive, with India launching the world’s biggest inoculation exercise, Nepal is yet to acquire Covid-19 vaccines.
Nepal’s drug regulator has so far approved a Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by Oxford-AstraZeneca, which is being produced by the Serum Institute of India.
During Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s recent visit to Delhi, India gave assurances to supply one lot of vaccines within January, but the amount has not been revealed yet.
Nepal plans to vaccinate around 6 million of its 29 million people in the first phase, requiring at least 1.2 million doses of vaccines for the purpose.
As of Monday, Nepal has reported 267,644 Covid-19 cases and 1,965 deaths.