Scientists in Bangladesh have reported a new Covid-19 strain, which is a bit similar to the one found in the UK recently.
Analysing data in early November, a team of Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research observed new mutations in novel coronavirus strains.
"We observed that one new strain was almost similar to the one found in the United Kingdom. It was not 100 percent the same. We will start working on it again," Dr Selim Khan, principal scientific officer at the BCSIR and also the head of the team, told The Daily Star yesterday.
Talking to this reporter later in the day, BCSIR Chairman Prof Md Aftab Ali Shaikh advised people not to panic and said the research was still underway.
Experts also advised against ringing the panic button, saying the new strain found here has already been in the country for almost two months at least and that no surge in Covid-19 cases has been reported yet.
They stressed on continuing to follow the health rules to stay safe amid this pandemic.
On December 14, authorities of the United Kingdom reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) that a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, identified through viral genomic sequencing, may spread more rapidly between people.
In response, at least 40 counties closed their borders or cancelled flights from the UK, in efforts to curb further spread of the virus.
Yesterday, State Minister for Civil Aviation Md Mahbub Ali, however, said Bangladesh's air communications with the UK would continue as usual until further notice.
As many as 165 passengers from the UK landed at Sylhet Osmani International Airport yesterday and headed home after they showed Covid-19 negative certificates to the airport authorities.
Studies are currently underway to determine whether the new strain found in the UK is associated with any changes in the severity of Covid-19 symptoms, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.
"A total of 17 mutations have been reported in the new strain found in the UK. Only one of those has a bit of similarity with the identified mutations in Bangladesh," Dr Marufur Rahman, deputy programme manager, Center for Medical Biotechnology of DGHS's Management Information System (MIS) told The Daily Star yesterday.
The BCSIR study team, led by Dr Salim Khan, analysed data on 263 cases of genome sequencing collected from different areas in eight divisions between May 7 and July 31 this year, said BCSIR officials.
The study suggested that the Covid-19 mutation rate (12.6 percent) in Bangladesh was higher than the global average of 7.23 percent, they said.
Dr Mushtuq Hussain, consultant of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said, "If the new variant was found here two months ago, there has not been much changes in the virus's behaviour. The transmission rate has been in a certain range."
Dr Mahbuba Zamil, head of virology at the Institute of Public Health, echoed his statement.
"The record of the transmission rate does not suggest anything exceptional," she said.
A mutation is a change in the virus's genome: the set of genetic instructions that contain all the information that the virus needs to function, according to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership.
Mutations can have a negative or positive impact on the virus's ability to survive and replicate, depending on where in the virus the genome mistakes occur.
Mutations can also change the characteristics of a virus, causing the original virus to either weaken or become more aggressive.
To replicate, a virus uses a host cell where it leaves its genetic elements. This results in millions of copies of the virus in the human body cell.
However, errors can creep in during this process when the virus replicates and such types of incidents are called mutations of the virus.
As a mutation creates new subtypes of the virus, it makes the development of an effective vaccine or drug against it very difficult.
These different variants also explain why a virus can trigger waves of infections of varying severity in different regions of the world, and why infections can also progress very differently in different people, say researchers.
"Mutation in the virus is usual. But knowing the clinical features of the virus -- severe or mild -- is very important. Because it helps devise a plan to suppress the transmission," noted virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, also member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, told this correspondent.
'BANGLADESH BEHIND IN THE RACE'
In an advice, WHO said all countries should increase the routine sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 viruses where possible, and sharing sequence data internationally, in particular, to report if the same mutations of concern are found.
"Genome sequencing is done for surveillance. As there is the highest number of genome sequencing in the UK, they were able to detect the new strain," Dr Mushtuq Hussain said, adding, "We have a shortage of logistics. But we need it as we have been failing to curb the spread of the virus."
According to the DGHS, a total of 538 genome sequencing have been done so far from Bangladesh.
"It is too little. We need more and more genome sequencing," Dr Marufur Rahman said.
19 MORE DIE
The authorities reported that 19 more people died of Covid-19 in 24 hours till 8:00am yesterday, taking the death toll to 7,378.
As many as 1,234 new cases were reported in those 24 hours. With this, the total number of Covid-19 cases reported in the country reached 506,102.
The death rate stood at 1.4 percent, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said in a release.
So far, 4,46,690 patients recovered with 2,345 in those 24 hours, added the release.