Friday, 6 August, 2021

New Virus Variant Averting Second Wave Of Pandemic

Narayan Upadhyay


If the warning of health experts is any sign, our country is now staring at a fresh surge of coronavirus infection. The graph of illness is pushing skyward, indicating that the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is ready to hit us. Though mortality rates have not yet reached a baffling level, the detection of a different variant of coronavirus, which, according to health authorities, is more pernicious, has sent chills down the spine of many in the country.
Owing to its high transmissible nature, the different virus strain has threatened to infect more lives in a short period. The UK variant of the germ (known as B.1.1.7) has entered Nepal from India. Many states, cities and towns in India have recorded a sharp acceleration in infection owing to the virus's character of rapid transmission. With the present increase of the UK variant cases, India has turned into a global hotspot in terms of infection and death rate.

Rising cases of virus
The rise in the virus in India has seen many migrant Nepalis returning to Nepal to ward off the fallout of the pandemic's new upturn. Many of them have carried the pathogen inside our nation. As Nepal shares a long porous border with her southern neighbour, many Nepalis and Indians cross the border unhindered. The gradual rise of new variant, notably among the school students, should prompt our health authorities, concerned agencies and line ministries to mull over and carry out ways to curb this variant's rapid growth in our society.
Though the government at present seems to be in no mood to introduce a countrywide lockdown, it cannot rest idly when the malignant virus variant raises its ugly head affecting a higher number of individuals. The government can do well to apply all health and safety protocols to keep the disease transmission at bay. But, in case the infection rate increases, the government would have to enforce all methods, including the lockdown and other restrictions.
To contain the current variant’s advance, the health department requires taking a slew of measures. Active surveillance, meaning searching and identifying people with infection in society, must be initiated because letting the affected persons to come to the health centres themselves would increase the transmission in population. Setting up quarantines in the districts and areas next to India, health investigation of those entering Nepal from India, and close monitoring the cross-border movement are significant steps the government must implement effectively to fight the new mutant.
Meanwhile, the people must not overlook the risks posed by the UK variant. Because of the populations’ growing carelessness towards the disease in recent times, the Prime Minister recently warned that if the individuals continue ignoring the risks of the pandemic, the government would have no option but to order the countrywide lockdown to rein in the virus spread. The authorities should prevent large gathering of the people who should be told, loud and clear, that they should follow all government health safety protocols which involve avoiding crowded places, wearing face masks, applying hand sanitiser and frequent handwashing. Rapid tracing and testing of the individuals having the power to transmit the virus is imperative.
These are but the most obvious steps which, if adhered to rigorously, can limit the bug of the UK variant to a tolerable level. However, provided the present situation in the country, it is relatively tough to enforce virus-containing controls. The authority is yet unsure that the masses would follow all its orders and advice.
This time around, lockdowns appear to be an unfavourble option as it would adversely affect our business and livelihoods that would drive overall economic growth to a further decline. The prolonged nationwide lockdown in the recent past revealed this depressing matter. Therefore, the government is less inclined to impose a complete lockdown as it had done a year ago after the outbreak of COVID-19. Despite facing some constraints, the government requires to take some viable option to curb the virus spread. It can for the time being ban mass gatherings in private and public places. Also, schools, colleges, cinemas and theatres can be shut until the situation improves. Transport operators should be asked to follow all health safety protocols.
The UK strain of the coronavirus has given us reasons to feel disconcerted. As a virus keeps mutating, it hampers the scientists in finding sure-fire vaccines to deal with it. At present, over four strains of the coronavirus have been detected around the world. Apart from the UK variant, there are USA variants (B.1.427 and B.1.429), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) variants. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had declared them as variants of concerns (VOCs), meaning they have the potential to infect several in a short period and can kill many individuals if the virus-chain is not broken by using necessary steps.
Luckily, health professionals have affirmed that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are potent against the UK and USA variants of the pathogen. However, the shortage of vaccines across the world presents another disquieting situation - more lives are prone to be infected with these virus strains. Many infected are likely to die by the time an adequate supply of vaccines is rolled out.
For Nepal, receiving shots has become an uphill task. Our authority has faced a dearth of vaccines though it has given its best to import necessary vaccines. Despite fulfilling all procedures of purchasing, India has made our authority to wait for long to get them. After India witnessed a high spate of virus cases, it has stopped supplying jabs to other countries.

Vaccine deficit
To sum it up, Nepal at present appears to be in the throes of the latest wave of coronavirus infection, thanks to the entry of the highly transmissible UK variant of the coronavirus. The deficit of vaccines has simply made the matter worse for us. At this critical juncture, undertaking preventive measures appears to be the most favourable and viable options. Since India has recorded a huge increment in new infections, monitoring cross-border activities of the people of two countries is essential. Stopping the contagious virus mutant from spreading faster among a higher number of people is key to averting the fresh wave of the pandemic.

(Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal.