What is the South African Variant of Coronavirus and Should India be Concerned?

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Even as experts were debating the effectiveness of the current batch of vaccines against the new and reportedly deadlier United Kingdom variant of Covid-19, yet another mutant strain of coronavirus has begun to cause concerns in India. This time, the mutation has surfaced in South Africa.

Why is it a cause for the Indian government? Four cases have been detected in India already.

[q]What is the South African variant of Covid-19?[/q]

[ans]The South African variant (the E484K) of coronavirus was first reported in December 2020. It is different from the Covid-19 (SARS-Cov- 2) virus in several ways including its spike protein which enables the virus entry into a body. Much like the new UK variant, the new strain is said to have high transmissibility, meaning it spreads quickly. While previous reports stated that the South African variant was not known to be more potent or fatal than Covid-19 and that it impacted older persons more, new reports find younger persons to be more susceptible to the South African variant.[/ans]

[q]Will the vaccine work against the South African variant?[/q]

[ans]Currently, the Indian government has backed two vaccines - Bharat Biotech's Covaxin and Serum Institute of India's Covishield. Covaxin, while reportedly successful against the UK variant, has not yet been tested against the South African variant. Covishield is based on Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which, according to the government of South Africa, is not entirely effective against the South African variant. Vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have already announced that they are working to modify their vaccines -- and possibly to create booster shots -- to better protect against the South African variant.[/ans]

[q]Should Indians be concerned?[/q]

[ans]So far, four cases of the South African coronavirus variant have been detected in India, all of whom from persons incoming from foreign countries. They have been quarantined and their contacts checked. The South African strain, however, is not the only variant of the Covid-19 which India needs to worry about. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has found a total of 192 Covid-19 cases of the new variants of mutated SARS-CoV-2 in the last two months, including four from the variant emerging in South Africa and one from the Brazilian variant. The UK-based New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) recently reported that the Kent variant may be up to 70 per cent more deadly than previous strains. While cases and fatalities due to Covid-19 have reduced, states such as Maharashtra have seen a surge in cases including cases of newer variants.[/ans]

(With inputs from IANS)