Kathmandu : Swab samples of all those people coming from the United Kingdom in recent days who have tested positive to Covid-19 will be sent to the World Health Organization’s collaborating laboratory for a whole-genome sequencing test.
So far, at least seven people who returned from the United Kingdom have tested positive to the coronavirus, according to a Health Ministry official who requested anonymity.
“We have sent a letter to the National Public Health Laboratory directing it to send the samples to the WHO’s collaborating laboratory,” Dr Bikash Devkota, chief of Quality Standard and Regulation Division at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “We can tell if the infection was caused by the new variant or by the regular virus only after the result comes.”
On December 22, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had directed all international airlines not to bring passengers from the United Kingdom or those transiting through the country from December 24 onwards, as per the direction of the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre.
The centre had issued the direction to prevent the possible spread of new variant of the coronavirus circulating in the UK
But despite the directive, there are still people coming from the UK, according to the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
“The number of people testing positive to coronavirus is growing, as the arrival of people from the UK have not stopped,” Rajesh Kumar Gupta, spokesperson at the National Public Health Laboratory, told the Post. “We will send all the samples of the infected people for whole-genome sequencing tests to check if the infection is caused by the new variant of the coronavirus.”
Whole-genome sequencing is a comprehensive method of analysing the entire DNA sequences of an organism’s genes. Researchers believe that the whole-genome sequencing of the coronavirus could be instrumental in tracking the severity and properties of the virus.
According to Gupta, the laboratory has readied the samples of the infected people to hand over to the WHO’s representatives in Nepal.
“We have packed the samples and informed the WHO’s representatives,”he added. “They have informed us that the samples will be parcelled within this week. It may take one week to get the result of whole genome sequencing.”
Earlier, the Health Ministry had sought the help of the UN’s health agency to test swab samples of a Nepali student who had returned from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus. The WHO had sent the swab samples to its collaborating centre in Hong Kong, which confirmed the infection.
The laboratory said that it is up to the WHO to decide where to send samples for gene sequencing tests.
Much is yet to be known about the new variant found in the UK as it was detected just a few weeks ago but according to the BBC, the new variant of the virus detected in the UK could be 70 percent more infectious than other variants circulating across the world.
South Africa is also struggling to contain a new wave of coronavirus infections, possibly linked to a genetic mutation of the virus.
Scientists studying new variants of the virus believe that South Africa’s variant is more contagious than that seen in the UK and may affect young people more, and could be slightly more resistant to existing vaccines. There are also concerns that the South African variant of the virus could “re-infect” people who have already recovered after being infected.
Although the new variant of the coronavirus, which is proved to be more infectious, is seen in many countries across the globe including in India, authorities concerned have been focussing only on the people returning from the UK.
People returning from other countries are not being tested despite the new variant of the coronavirus reported in several other countries, including Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, France and Denmark, Canada and Japan.
Doctors in Nepal say that a single case of a new variant of virus will be sufficient to spread throughout the country, if precautions are not taken. They, however, believe the new variant will not be as lethal as the previous one.