The dangerous variants may have entered Bangladesh from India due to unchecked movement between the neighbouring countries, public health experts fear
Although uncertain, public health experts suspect that two Indian variants of Sars-CoV-2, which reportedly caused the recent surge in Covid-19 cases in India, have entered Bangladesh.
The IEDCR, tasked with surveying coronavirus mutations, has yet to provide any confirmation on the presence of double or triple mutant variants of India in Bangladesh, according to a government spokesperson.
“The variants may have entered Bangladesh,” said Prof Robed Amin, spokesperson for the DGHS Covid-19 management committee.
“The variants were detected long ago [in India] and may have entered Bangladesh prior to the suspension of flights,” Dr Robed told the Dhaka Tribune.
The authorities are not conducting regular contact tracings. “This is why there is uncertainty over the variants’ presence,” the noted public health expert said.
Virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, said they had advised the government to set up quarantine centres in border areas to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country
“Travellers from India should have been placed under quarantine, but we failed to do so,” he said.
Meanwhile, IEDCR Adviser Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain said there was no evidence that the double or triple variants were deadlier. “But it is undeniable that we need to increase our genome sequencing capacity and conduct them regularly to understand the actual situation,” he added.
Halting trans-border movement may not be feasible due to various reasons, but ensuring quarantine is of paramount importance, he said.
“There is no alternative to complying with hygiene rules in order to keep everyone safe,” Dr Mushtuq said.
The two variants
The UK coronavirus variant (lineage B1.1.7), South African variant (lineage B1.351), Indian double mutant (B.1.167) and triple mutant (B.1.168) variants are believed to be behind the recent Covid-19 spike in India, according to the country’s media outlets.
The two Indian variants might be more infectious than other variants, several genome scientists of India suggested.
The double mutant variant has been reported in 10 Indian states and the triple mutant in at least four states.
As many as 852 sequences of the B.1.167 lineage were detected as of April 23 since its first detection in India, according to Outbreak.info, a website that aggregates Covid-19 data.
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The seven-day rolling average percentage of B.1.167 positive sequences on February 1 was only 1%, but it climbed to 52% on April 23, the tracker website said.
The variant has been detected mostly in southern Maharashtra, the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.
Vinod Scaria, scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) in New Delhi, took to Twitter to say that the proportion of B.1.168 had been growing significantly in recent months in West Bengal.
“Along with B.1.167, it forms a major lineage in West Bengal,” he added.
The B.1.167 is considered as a “variant of concern” while the B.1.168 is a “variant of interest,” according to Outbreak.info.
Quoting genome scientists and virologists, Indian media reported that the B.1.167 variant had two mutations — E484Q and L452R.
In a report published in late-March citing Dr Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Centre Shreveport, BBC said that E484Q was similar to E484K — a mutation seen in B.1.351 (South Africa) and P.1 (Brazil) variants.
The triple mutant variant has three different strains which have combined together to form a fresh variant. One of its variants is E484K, which is considered as a major immune escape variant.
Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa, called the E484K mutation “alarming”, according to a CNN report.
Meanwhile, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in a press release issued last month, said: “Such [double] mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity.”