Although there was a fear that some of the missing U.K. returnees (over 120 who are yet to be traced) may be carriers of the new strain of COVID-19 and the risk of the infection spreading was high, Karnataka has so far not witnessed any significant surge or cluster formations.
The Centre had stopped all flights from the U.K. on December 22 and those who landed in the State since November 25 are being traced and tested. However, even after 18 days of the last flight only 11 U.K. returnees including two of their primary contacts have tested positive for the new strain so far.
COVID-19 experts said the fact that no cluster formations have been reported so far indicates that the State has managed to tide over the new strain spread and is unlikely to witness a surge beyond what it has already witnessed, they said. This is mainly because nearly half the population in the State has already been exposed to COVID-19 by now and has developed immunity.
Also, with the new variant circulating in the U.K. since September 2020, there is a possibility that it could have already been imported into the country and KarnatakaBut, going by the considerable decline in the number of cases in the State since October, experts say the new strain - despite being highly infectious - is unable to find dense pockets of susceptible (uninfected) people here.
Giridhar R. Babu, member, State’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), told The Hindu on Saturday that it could be because the threshold for population immunity has been reached in most urban areas. “It seems mostly that the new strain is unable to find dense pockets of susceptible (uninfected) people. Otherwise clusters should have occurred by now,” he said. “Also, people continuing to follow protocols has helped,” he said.
V. Ravi, nodal officer for genetic confirmation for SARS-CoV-2 in Karnataka and TAC member, said the State has managed to tide over a possible new strain surge as it was quick to isolate and treat infected U.K. returnees. “The early isolation has prevented the virus from spreading in the community. Also, probably there is substantial immunity in the population now. A second serosurvey will reveal if there is herd immunity,” he said.
C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer for labs and testing in the State’s COVID-19 task force, also said it is very clear that the mutant strain has not been able to find a chunk of uninfected people as nearly 50% have developed immunity. However, with flights resuming from Sunday it is too early to say that there is no fast spread of new strain in Karnataka. “But, as of now it appears to be under control,” he said.
All three experts said that the State should not go slow on contact tracing and people should continue following the standard guidelines of ‘SMS’ - social distancing, masking and sanitisation.