British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India – slated to be the main guest at the Republic Day parade in Delhi next month – may not go amid concerns about the rapidly spreading mutant version of the novel coronavirus in that country, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the council of the British Medical Association told GossipMantri on Tuesday.
He said while it was too early for the UK government to decide whether to visit Mr Johnson, the trip “may not be possible, especially if this level of infection and spread continues”.
“Obviously we can’t make a decision in five weeks time today … Changes to the reality of the virus are happening on a daily basis. One consideration, however, is that traveling to India may not be possible, especially if this level of infection and spread continues,” said Dr. Nagpaul told GossipMantri.
“But if the lockdown in London and other parts (the UK capital and other areas have extremely strict Tier 4 restrictions) controls the spread of the virus, it may be,” he said.
The mutant strain – with at least 17 changes in its viral genetic load – was detected in south-east England in September. This strain – B.1.1.7 – offers no change in clinical severity or mortality, but is 70 percent more transmissible, which Dr. Nagpaul made containment more of a challenge.
The strain, which has already seen cases in Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, has resulted in several other countries including India temporarily banning flights to and from the UK, and its rapid spread has also resulted in the availability of hospitals severely impaired beds.
Dr. Nagpaul said hospital occupancy (including facilities outside of Covid) was 90 percent and that the UK (and other countries where it may have spread) might need a longer lockdown to contain the virus.
“We have a serious problem because hospitals in England are now seeing more Covid patients than in the first wave. Many hospitals are at full capacity – last week 44 ambulances had to be rerouted to remote facilities because there were no beds in local hospitals, ” he explained.
The UK has started vaccinating its population (with the Pfizer vaccine) against the Covid virus, but the mutant strain has raised fears that it may be immune to the drugs. Dr. Nagpaul said early scientific advice said it should be effective and that the priority now is to step up vaccination efforts.
He also stressed that measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus have remained the same – these included maintaining social distance, regular use of face masks and hand washing.
Today the Indian government said the mutant strain had not yet been discovered in the country.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), told GossipMantri Monday that the strain may be present in several countries without the authorities being aware of it.
Last week the Union Minister of Health, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, telling people not to panic about the new UK strain, said the situation was under control. “At this point, I would say, don’t be bothered with imaginary situations … the government is completely vigilant,” he said.