WHO chief scientists to NDTV

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, a World Health Organization scientist, spoke to NDTV on Monday


  • The mutant was first identified in the UK in September
  • Initial data suggest that they are up to 70 percent more transmissible
  • On Sunday, Italy reported a person infected with the new strain

New Delhi:

A mutant strain of the new coronavirus – first identified in the UK in September and quickly replacing other variations of the virus – could already be present in several countries, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, a scientist in NDTV, told NDTV on Monday night. within the World Health Organization. .

However, she also said it was still too early to draw conclusions about the new strain – which initial data suggest is up to 70 percent more transmissible – and that it is “unlikely that a few mutations” will affect the response. immune system to one. of existing Covid vaccines.

“The UK is one of those countries that does a lot of whole genome sequencing and is therefore able to track this very closely in real time. I suspect that as more countries look at their data, they might find this variant or a variant, they might already be there, “Dr. Swaminathan told NDTV.

On Sunday, the UK said Italy had reported a person infected with the new strain, which has around 17 potentially significant changes in its viral genetic code. Cases have also been reported from Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands, with another aggressive strain in South Africa.

“There have been mutations (of other viruses) in the past that have become the dominant variant in the future. This may be just another variant,” she said, adding: “It is unlikely that a few mutations in the spike protein could change. the immune system ‘s response to the vaccine. “

Dr Swaminathan said experiments had been carried out to better understand the new strain in the UK – labeled B.1.1.7 – but said: “It will take a few weeks to get results”.

“For now, we are encouraging countries to do more sequencing. India has a huge capacity to do whole genome sequencing (one of the keys to developing an effective vaccine). In fact, India is already contributing quite a bit to a global database of 300,000 people. sequences, “she said.

Dr. Swaminathan also pointed out that the measures for containing the virus were the same.


“It is really important that all countries implement measures to control the virus and reduce transmission. We know what these measures are – testing, tracking contacts and isolating positive cases,” said Dr. Swaminathan.

The mutated version of the coronavirus, which was detected in the south-east of England in September, quickly became the dominant strain in London and other parts of the UK, leading to rising infection rates and the harshest levels of restrictions for around 18 million. people.

On Monday, India, along with 30 other nations, issued a temporary ban on entry flights from the UK. The ban will start on Wednesday and all passengers in the UK will be tested on arrival. Maharashtra also acted by imposing a night cover until 5 January.

News of the mutation has also led to concerns that the first batch of Covid vaccines may prove ineffective. However, medical experts, including Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergency Program, say there is no evidence at this stage.

On Monday, the head of the EU medicines regulator said the Pfizer vaccine, which was launched to the public in the UK and is one of three considered for emergency use in India, would protect against the new strain.

With input from AFP