The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) on Tuesday confirmed that the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 also called the 'Indian variant' had spread across the nation.
Issuing a press statement on Tuesday, the ministry said that of the 35 swab samples collected from various parts across the nation, the new variant B.617.2 was detected in 34 samples.
While the new B.617.2 strain of coronavirus was detected in 97 per cent of the sample, B.617.1 strain was detected in the remaining three percent of the sample. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already declared both the variant as the worldwide variant of the concern.
Aasha Shah of The Rising Nepal talked to Dr. Anup Bastola, spokesperson and consultant infectious disease expert at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku, about the nature, contagiousness, and fatalness of the new coronavirus variant detected in Nepal. Excerpts:
How is the nature of the new variant which has also been detected here in Nepal?
Change or mutation in any virus causing epidemic or pandemic is a natural phenomenon. The new variant is complex and fatal than the coronavirus strains that prevailed around us before. This variant is highly infectious and a huge number of people have already contracted it.
Also, many people, who had contracted the new variant, have succumbed to the infection.
Does this mean that the new variant is deadlier than the ones before?
Yes, this variant is deadlier than the variants that existed before. During last year, majorly senior citizens had become critically ill from the coronavirus infection. But this year, youths infected with the new variant are suffering from serious health problems.
Our hospital has been overwhelmed with infected patients and we have run out of beds. Considering this, it can be said that the new variant is fatal.
It is said that the new variant transmits to hundreds of people in a room in just minutes. Is this true?
If an infected person is in the same room with other people, the chances of spread of the virus will be high if the infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus remains active in a closed room for about three hours. As the virus is airborne, the chances of its transmission are high. This is the reason why mostly the whole family gets infected even if the virus is detected only in one member in the beginning.
Which age group has the new variant affected the most?
The new variant affects people of all age groups from four-month-old infants to senior citizens aged 60 and above. However, the youths have suffered from severe difficulties due to the infection.
People of all age groups have been infected but mostly the youths are having difficulty in breathing.
As most of the senior citizens have already received the vaccine against COVID-19, it can be believed that the effect of the virus is lesser in them.
Of the active virus-infected patients, how many might have been infected with the new variant?
Currently, all the COVID-19 patients are infected with the new variant.
Are vaccines developed until now effective against new variants?
Until now, those who had been inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine are safe from the infection. Even if they contract the virus, the infection is not fatal as they recover early. Thus, it is certain that the vaccines are effective. However, the extent to which the vaccines are effective is yet to be ascertained by various research and study going on across the globe.
None of the people who had received the jab have become seriously ill after being infected with the virus. Look at us health workers; we are always in close contact with the infected patients. This shows that the vaccine is effective.
What safety measures should be adopted to avoid infection?
As the wedding season is going on, various parties and gatherings are taking place. Many news reports have stated that many wedding attendees have contracted the virus. If an infected person participates in crowds and gatherings, s/he may transmit the new variant to hundreds of people.
Thus, wearing masks, avoiding crowds, parties, reception and unnecessary gatherings are the only way to avoid infection. Also, the government must strive to inoculate all the citizens as soon as possible.