‘Indian variant not necessarily from India’
Health Ministry points out spread to over 80 countries
No source determined yet
By Buddhika Samaraweera
Taking into account the fact that the B.1.617.2 Delta variant of Covid-19, better known as the Indian variant as it was first detected in India, has spread to more than 80 countries around the world, the Ministry of Health said that it may not have necessarily come to Sri Lanka through a traveller from India.
When contacted by The Morning to inquire about this, Health Ministry Communications Director, Public Health Services Deputy Director General, and Disaster Preparedness and Response Division Head Dr. Hemantha Herath explained two possible ways by which this variant could have come to Sri Lanka.
Noting that Indian nationals were barred from entering Sri Lanka very recently, Dr. Herath said that there was a possibility that this variant may have been transmitted from an Indian who had previously visited Sri Lanka. He pointed out that the barring of Indian nationals took place long after the particular variant began spreading in India, which was late last year.
“In addition, the Delta variant has now spread to more than 80 countries around the world. Individuals from those countries came to Sri Lanka for various activities. It is also possible that this variant came to Sri Lanka through such a person,” he said, adding that investigations are being carried out to find out how this variant entered the country.
Meanwhile, when asked whether the Health Ministry has received information on the exact number of patients infected with the Delta variant, Dr. Herath said that no specific number of patients had been reported to the Ministry as of yesterday (20).
Speaking further, Dr. Herath said that it was not critically important to identify the exact number of patients infected with a particular variant of the Covid-19 virus, as this would require gene sequencing to be performed on each Covid-19 infected patient to determine the exact number of patients with a particular variant. This costs a lot of money and consumes time, he elaborated.
“However, future surveys will be able to indicate the number of infected individuals with a particular variant of Covid-19 as a percentage of the total number of infected. Even in other parts of the world, the number of patients infected with each variant is not reported. But they mention it as a percentage following conducting surveys,” he mentioned.
He added that discovering the source of the new variant and the exact number of infected persons was not as essential as the public following health guidelines, which would be how any variant could be controlled. He also said: “It is said that certain variants spread rapidly, but if people follow health guidelines such as wearing facemasks, washing hands, and keeping social distance, all these variants can be brought under control.”
The highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 was detected from a community sample for the first time in Sri Lanka on 17 June. According to University of Sri Jayewardenepura Allergy, Immunology, and Cell Biology Unit Director Dr. Chandima Jeewandara, the variant was detected among five community samples obtained from the Dematagoda area in Colombo.
Better known as the Indian variant, the B.1.617.2 Delta is said to be 50% more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 Alpha variant currently spreading in Sri Lanka, which was first detected in the UK, and is referred to as the UK variant.
Sri Lankan health authorities detected the Delta variant in early May in a traveller who had returned from India and was in quarantine. However, the authorities said that the individual had undergone quarantine for 14 days and had been released from the centre after a further seven days under watch, and therefore posed no risk of community transmission of the Delta variant.
Furthermore, late last May, during the height of the devastating Covid-19 second wave in India, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement that any passenger with a travel history to India, including transit in the past 14 days, would not be permitted to enter Sri Lanka.
When Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi was contacted by The Morning to inquire as to whether Indian nationals had recently arrived in the country despite this arrival ban, he reiterated that Indian nationals had been barred from entering the country since last month.
However, he added that although no Indian nationals have arrived in the country since then, a total of 1,015 Indians had arrived in the country in the six months leading to May.
The official death toll in India’s second wave of Covid-19, which began in early March, crossed 200,000 recently.