Special variant: Too early to impose travel ban, says COVID task force member
Member of National Task Force for COVID-19 said that in the absence of a detailed study to determine the symptoms and severity of the new strain, it would be too early to impose travel ban in India
The discovery of a new and more potent strain of SARS-CoV-2 found in parts of Europe including the UK, The Netherlands, Denmark and Austria has sent an alarm across the world as the British government stated the new mutated form of the Coronavirus is 70 per cent more transmissible and "out of control".
The UK government has imposed a strict lockdown in London and South-East England amid Christmas celebrations.
Worried by the potential influx of travellers from Britain, countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands on Sunday announced the suspension of air links -- and in some cases rail and ferry routes as well -- from Britain.
Member of National Task Force for COVID-19, Giridhar R. Babu, said that in the absence of a detailed study to determine the symptoms and severity of the new strain, it would be too early to impose travel ban in India.
"The new information on antigenic drift in the UK and South Africa is a result of widespread community transmission, necessitating the virus trying to find a way by changing its genetic lineage to survive and human beings trying to duck it with vaccines. These changes are also probably specific to the geographical region," he explained.
"The modifications in the genetic lineage and mutations and the associations with the clinical symptoms and severity are to be investigated in detail in India. In the absence of such evidence, it would be too early to impose travel bans," reasoned Babu, who is also Professor and head of Lifecourse Epidemiology at Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).
However, majority of India's public health experts argued that the country should close its sky to prevent the entry of newly mutated coronavirus here.
Lalit Kant, former head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) suggested that the government should take all measures to contain the mutated variant from infiltrating the country as it is found highly contagious.
"In first week of November, the infectivity of the latest variant was found at 24 per cent but rose exponentially within a month and reached 70 per cent as we are speaking. So considering these evidences, India should take a prompt decision and must ban air-travel at least from countries where its emergence is found," he added.
"If the new strain finds its way to the country's population, it would severely affect the people with comorbidities, leading to a huge burden on hospitals which India witnessed during the recent Covid surges," Kant cautioned.
Soumyadeep Bhaumik, public health specialist at the George Institute for Global Health, said that India should learn from the past and not repeat the mistake of February and March where a crucial period to contain the virus was lost due to indecisiveness.
"The country needs to ban all international flights pronto," he stated while speaking to IANS.
"As per the reports of the cases spread in European countries, the virus is spreading incredibly fast. It's just a matter of time for it to reach India. Since Europe is a free trade country, people who travelled there recently can head back to India with a possibility of carrying the latest strain.
"Looking at the reports of the infectiousness of the new strain which is 70 per cent higher, India should ban flight from Europe without any delay. Several countries have already followed that," Bhaumik added.
The Union Health Ministry has called an urgent meeting of its joint monitoring group on Monday to discuss the emergence of the mutated variant of Coronavirus in the UK.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) tweeted late on Saturday that it was "in close contact with the UK officials on the new Covid-19 virus variant and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned".