Following detection of the UK variant, the South African variant of coronavirus has been detected in Bangladesh, according to global genome-sequencing database GISAID.
According to the database, the South African variant -- also known as B.1.351 or 501.V2 -- was first reported from Bangladesh on January 24, which was already also found in the UK and the US.
There are 11 other variants including the UK one in the country, which were found earlier in multiple countries, according to data from GISAID.
News of detection of the South African variant comes when Bangladesh is seeing a steep rise in daily new infections and positivity rates of the highly transmissibly virus.
On February 21, a steady fall in the positivity rate had reached 2.33 percent, which spiked to 9.48 percent yesterday -- a fourfold rise. Daily new infections had been as low as 845 on March 8, which more than doubled to 1,773 new daily cases.
Deaths have also risen to 26 yesterday from 18 on Sunday.
Unlike the UK variant, the preliminary work suggests the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offers "limited" protection against mild disease from the South African variant, but experts say it should still protect against severe disease, reports BBC.
According to local experts, if the South African variant is already in the country, it is a cause of concern for the country as it can spread more rapidly.
The South African variant was detected in a sample sent to Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) for genome sequencing by the National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre on Jan 21, its Director Prof Dr Abul Khair Mohammad Shamsuzzaman told The Daily Star yesterday.
The BCSIR sent the data of the sequencing back to the referral centre in early March, after which the centre forwarded it to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said Shamsuzzaman.
This newspaper learnt that the authorities of BCSIR have submitted 93 new genome sequencing data to the GISAID database last week.
When asked, Dr Selim Khan, principal scientific officer at the BCSIR and head of the team, declined to comment in this regard.
To date, a total of 903 genomic sequence data have been uploaded to the GISAID database from Bangladesh.
Interpreting the GISAID database, Md Aminul Islam, Chief Molecular Biologist at Ashiyan Medical College Hospital in Dhaka told The Daily Star, "The GISAID database shows there are 12 variants in Bangladesh which are also found in multiple countries. Of them, three variants, first detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil are of more concern."
The IEDCR, which conducts genome sequencing as a government organisation, earlier admitted they have detected the UK variant in the country on January 5.
Despite repeated attempts, this correspondent could not reach any IEDCR officials over phone.
NEW VARIANTS CAUSING FRESH SURGE?
The directorate general of health services (DGHS) has reported 1,773 new cases of Covid-19 in 24 hours till 8:00am yesterday, raising the total count to 5,59,168.
There is as yet no scientific evidence to explain the spike in new cases, deaths and positivity rates, but experts offered two probable reasons.
"There are two options -- either the previous variants have become more active or new variants are causing spikes in transmission. There is not enough scientific data. But I suspect the new variants -- either locally mutated or imported, are contributing here," Prof Ridwanur Rahman, an infectious disease specialist, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Prof Tahmina Shirin, director of the IEDCR, however, dismissed the contribution of new variants to the spike of Covid-19 transmission.
"No, not the new variants. The only reason is people are not maintaining health guidelines," she told this correspondent on Saturday.
Noted virologist and member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 Prof Nazrul Islam, however, had a slightly different take.
"If we analyse the severity of infection, and considering the growing transmission among the young people, we can see a similarity with the UK situation after the new variant was detected there. Most probably, the South African variant is also contributing to the rise in transmission," Prof Nazrul Islam told The Daily Star yesterday.
He also opined that there is no scope to reopen educational institutions in this context.
"We have to enforce health rules right now," he urged.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday also said they have instructed all hospitals across the country to stay prepared to tackle the rising number of Covid-19 patients.
"We are seeing transmission increasing. Covid-19 positivity rate has crossed seven percent [on Sunday]. Deaths too have increased. Yesterday [Sunday], 18 died which we have not seen in the last two and a half months. We are very panicked and worried about it," Zahid Maleque said following a meeting in his office at the secretariat.