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The variant, B.1.617, has reached at least 17 countries, from Britain and Iran to Switzerland, sparking global concern and spurring several to close their borders to people travelling from India, according to NDTV.
Scientists are studying whether the variant, resulting from two key mutations to the outer "spike" portion of the virus that attaches to human cells, is driving an unexpected explosion in cases in India.
India's tally of infections was just shy of 20 million on Monday, after it reported more than 3,00,000 new coronavirus cases for a 12th straight day.
|Except for Taiwan citizens, all those who had been in India would be barred from entering its territory (Photo: NDTV)|
Last week, Indonesia, which has been battling one of Asia's worst COVID-19 outbreaks, stopped issuing visas for foreigners who had been in India in the previous 14 days.
"We need to contain these cases, while there are still only a few of them," said Indonesian health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin, after the first two cases of the variant reported in the country on Monday.
Neighbouring Malaysia said on Sunday it had detected its first case of the Indian variant, days after imposing a ban on flights from the country.
On Monday, Taiwan said that except for its citizens, all those who had been in India in the 14 days prior would be barred from entering its territory, while returning Taiwanese face 14 days in centralised quarantine facilities.
The move comes after Australia took a more drastic measure last week, banning the entry of residents and citizens who have been in India in the previous two weeks, threatening fines and jail for any who disobey.
Philippine officials warned that they could not rule out the possibility of an India-like COVID-19 crisis, saying last week's decision to ban entry of arrivals from India aimed to keep it from becoming a reality.
The World Health Organisation designates the variant as being "of interest", suggesting it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmissible, cause more severe disease or evade vaccine immunity.
Other strains with known risks, such as those first detected in the Brazil, Britain and South Africa, have been categorised as "variants of concern," a higher threat level.
India's vaccinations plummet as coronavirus infections soar
India's daily COVID-19 shots have fallen sharply from an all-time high reached early last month as domestic companies struggle to boost supplies and imports are limited, even as the country fights the world's worst surge in infections.
Daily inoculations have averaged 2.5 million since hitting a peak of 4.5 million on April 5. A quadrupling of coronavirus cases during the period has collapsed the public health system in many regions of the country.
|A vial and syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration|
India, with the world's biggest vaccine making capacity, has partially or fully immunised only 12% of its 1.35 billion people, according to data from the government's Co-Win.
Public forecasts by its only two current vaccine producers show their total monthly output of 70-80 million doses would increase only in two months or more, though the number of people eligible for vaccines has doubled to an estimated 800 million since May 1.
India on Saturday received 150,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine and the government said "millions of doses" more will come in.
Pfizer said on Monday it was in discussions with the Indian government seeking an "expedited approval pathway" for its vaccine.
"Unfortunately, our vaccine is not registered in India although our application was submitted months ago," CEO Albert Bourla said.
"We are currently discussing with the Indian government an expedited approval pathway to make our Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available for use in the country."
Pfizer was the first company to seek emergency use authorisation for its vaccine in India late last year. It withdrew its application in February after the drugs regulator sought a small, local safety study for the shot before considering its request.
WHO: India, Brazil Account for Half of New Global COVID-19 Cases
The World Health Organization said Monday that India and Brazil accounted for more than half of the new COVID-19 infections in the world last week, as the United Nations agency and other groups rush aid to the regions.
|Indian workers disinfect an isolation center for COVID-19 positive people in Hyderabad, India, May 3, 2021. (Photo: AP)|
The Johns Hopkins COVID Resource Center reports India saw a record number of new cases with 2,612,354 in the week ending Saturday. Brazil saw 414,123 new cases, according to VOA News.
During a briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO and its foundation are providing equipment and supplies including oxygen concentrators and mobile field hospitals to India.
They are also providing advice also on how to care for COVID-19 patients at home when a family cannot find a hospital bed.
The WHO chief says they have been working with their regional adjunct, the Pan American Health Organization, to get medicines and assistance to Brazil as well.
Tedros said what is happening in India and Brazil can happen anywhere, unless public health precautions that WHO has been calling for since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, like wearing masks, social distancing, and proper hygiene, are taken. He said, “Vaccines are part of the answer, but they are not the only answer."
Indonesia records two cases of Indian COVID-19 variant in Jakarta
|An elementary school student wearing a face mask has her temperature checked before attending a classroom session, as schools reopen amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan|
Indonesia has recorded two cases of a highly infectious COVID-19 variant first identified in India, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Monday.
“There were two new mutations that entered. One from India, with two incidents in Jakarta and one from South Africa in Bali,” Budi told a virtual conference. Another official confirmed the two cases were the B.1.617 variant, first detected in India, according to Reuters.
Indonesia last month stopped issuing visas for foreigners who had been in India in the previous 14 days.
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