Fears over newest variant spreading
MASS cremations, limited oxygen supply and a shortage of hospital beds continue to plague India as the Covid-19 infection rate in the country soars.
There are over 22 million confirmed cases and a death toll of about 250 000 in the country’s second wave.
Updates provided by the Indian government show that the number of daily infections had risen to 400 000, while the daily death rate has hiked to an average of 4 000.
India, which has the second-largest population in the world with 1.38 billion people, now has the second-highest number of infections.
The US is still number one, with nearly 33million confirmed infections and more than 580 000 fatalities. India, however, is close on its heels.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress Party in India, took to Twitter recently, calling for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prevent the further mass spread of the virus.
Gandhi slated the government for the lack of oxygen supply and hospital beds as patients go from one hospital to another for help.
Some of the hardest hit states in India have either imposed a lockdown or curfews. According to IndianExpress. com, states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Bihar and Delhi are under lockdown. Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are among the states under curfew.
Indian Express also reported that Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan had donated over R3 million towards setting up a 400-bed facility in Delhi, India’s capital city.
Concerns have been raised that the new variant called B.1.617, initially discovered in India, could be the cause of the second wave there, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to list it as a variant of concern.
Meanwhile, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishanker, India’s Minister for External Affairs, had to self-isolate after two members of his delegation tested positive for the virus while attending a two-day Group of Seven (G7) ministerial meeting in London. He attended the second day of the meeting virtually.
He tweeted that he was made aware of his exposure to possible Covid-positive cases. “As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in a virtual mode.”
A day before isolating, he met South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Naledi Pandor, for a bilateral discussion.
In an interview with the POST, Pandor’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said she had followed all Covid-19 protocols and did not see the need to isolate.
“Minister Pandor was not in direct contact with the delegates who tested positive, so there was no need for her to quarantine or self-isolate.”
Ngqengelele said, as part of the meeting, all delegates were required to take rapid tests, all of which came back negative for the South African delegation.
“We wore masks and regularly sanitised and washed our hands. Throughout our stay, we took tests every day and all of them came back negative.
“We’ve landed back in South Africa, and part of the requirement to enter the country was to get tested, which we all did. Those results were also negative.”
Certain organisational and political leaders in South Africa have called for a travel ban of flights from India to prevent the possible entry of the new variant into the country.
So far, countries like the US, Australia and the UK, which have confirmed cases of the Indian variant, have imposed travel bans. Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Singapore are among countries that have also reported cases.
African countries such as Kenya and Uganda were also affected recently.
In a statement, Angel Khanyile, DA MP and spokesperson of Home Affairs, said the government should halt direct and connecting flights from India to South Africa as well as impose restrictions at sea ports and land borders.
“We have seen how the devastation of the country’s second wave has collapsed the health system. If our authorities don’t act decisively, a possible third wave of infections in South Africa will not only be inevitable but also more deadly than before.”
EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo called on the government “to practise oversight, by closing access to South Africa to India as they battle this deadly virus and quarantine all those who have entered South Africa from the country in state facilities and under state supervision”.
A joint letter from the Islamic Medical Association of SA and SA Muslim Network to Dr Zweli Mkhize, the Health Minister, also pleaded for travel restrictions to be imposed.
“We appeal to you to institute immediate restrictions on travel from all redline countries for those who need to come home from these countries or for foreigners who have urgent business in South Africa to have imposed on them a mandatory 14-day isolation period, at their own costs, as is practised all over the world.”
’Hundreds of variants’
Responding to concerns about the new variant, Professor Yunus Moosa from the University of KwaZulu-Natal Covid-19 war room, said there could be hundreds of variants as the virus naturally mutates (alters its genetic sequence) over time.
He said the more people that come across from India, the higher the likelihood that someone would carry the new variant with them.
On whether a travel ban would be a wise decision, Moosa said: “I’m sure a lot goes into making such a decision than just the risk of infection slipping through. Clearly restricting movement will eliminate the risk alluded to.
”A travel ban might not be practical. Stringent quarantine for 10 days for all return travellers might be another way to go, but we need systems in place to make sure this is implemented.“
Meanwhile, Hindu organisations such as the SA Hindu Maha Sabha, Saptah Mandir and the Shree Sanathan Dharma Sabha held a havan (when a fire is lit for a purification ritual) on Saturday for India to overcome the pandemic.
WHO lists variants of interest
In its weekly epidemiology update, the B.1.617 is listed as a variant of interest.
The 501Y.V2 variant, which is dominant in South Africa, has been listed as one of three variants of concern.
The other two include VOC 202012/01, which was first identified in the UK, and variant P.1, first identified in Brazil and Japan.
The WHO said for the second consecutive week global cases were at their highest since the start of the pandemic.
It said India accounted for 90% of cases and deaths in South-East Asia as well as 46% of global cases and 25% of global deaths reported in the past week.
The WHO found that the highest numbers of new cases came from India.
It said the Covid-19 vaccines that are currently in development or have been approved are expected to provide some protection against new virus variants as the vaccines elicit a broad immune response involving a range of antibodies and cells. It said data continues to be collected and analysed on the new variants.