New strain found in country

Roughly similar to UK’s, not as contagious

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 13:14, Dec 24,2020 | Updated: 23:46, Dec 24,2020


The Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has identified a COVID-19 variant which is also defined by two spike protein mutations similar to those in the UK variant.

The detection leads to enhanced epidemiological and virological investigations, but the Bangladeshi variant has not been found as highly contagious as the UK variant, BCSIR principal scientific officer and genomic research lab head Salim Khan told New Age on Thursday.

In five samples collected in October from the capital, the BCSIR genomic research lab found that the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, was also defined by two of the multiple spike protein mutations detected in the UK variant.

The spike protein mutations are P681H and D1118H, Salim said.

Scientists from the government disease monitoring arm – the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research – said that the similarity between the two spike protein mutations does not mean that the Bangladesh variant is similar to that of the UK. 

‘Such partially similar spike protein mutations in the COVID-19  virus were present in many countries, including Bangladesh, much earlier and there has been no evidence so far of this version being more severe and more contagious,’ said IEDCR principal scientific officer ASM Alamgir.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s December 20 disease assessment brief , the new variant found in the UK is defined by the spike protein mutations of deletion 69-70, deletion 144, N501Y, A570D, D614G, P681H, T716I, S982A and D1118H.

The new coronavirus variant detected in the UK is spreading rapidly in England, raising international alarms as the variant is likely more contagious than previous versions of the virus.

Dozens of countries from India to Argentina have also banned flights from Britain for fear of the new virus strain.

While it is known and expected that viruses constantly change through mutation leading to the emergence of new variants, a preliminary analysis in the UK suggests that this variant is significantly more transmissible than previously circulating variants, with an estimated potential to increase the transmissibility of up to 70 per cent, according to the ECDPC.

BCSIR’s Salim Khan said that although they detected the spike protein mutations in November in the country, they only revisited their findings after the UK variant created a global uproar.

‘But our variant is not that much contagious,’ he noted.

‘The variant has been present in Bangladesh at least since October but we have not noticed the spike in the COVID-19 cases in our country,’ he added.

A study conducted by the IEDCR and disseminated in November showed that 19 distinct SARS-CoV-2 lineages or descendants were spreading in Bangladesh.

The three main localised lineages found in Bangladesh were B.1.1, B.1.1.25 and B.1.36.

Lineages B.1.1 and B.1.1.25 spread to all the eight divisions of the country but B.1.36 was confined mostly to Chattogram division, the study found.

Lead researcher Tahmina Shirin, also director of the IEDCR, said that the study found that COVID-19 came to Bangladesh in mid-February spreading all over the country by March.

The genomic research supports the multiple international importation of SARS-CoV-2 to Bangladesh from India, Saudi Arabia, the USA and the UK, she said.

The new Bangladesh variant, Salim Khan said, has similarity with the variant detected in Peru.

He said that it was yet to be assessed if the new variant had spread across the country or not.

‘We have started enhanced investigations and other government entities, including the IEDCR, should also start epidemiological and virological investigations,’ he said.

IEDCR’s ASM Alamgir said that they had so far come to know that the BCSIR findings showed that the variant was not ‘completely and specifically’ similar to that of the UK variant.

‘It should not be said that the variant found in Bangladesh is similar to the UK’s,’ he said.

About the implication of the BCSIR findings about the new version of the virus in Bangladesh, Alamgir said that mutation of a virus is constant and sometimes the newly mutant one appears to be more severe and more contagious while it might be less severe and less contagious.

‘We’ve learnt that the UK variant causes not much difference in the pattern of the existing variants in terms of severity and contagiousness,’ he said.

The Bangladeshi version of the virus has also not showed higher severity and higher contagiousness as the country has already been experiencing the virus since October without facing higher infection rates, Alamgir said. 

‘But we’ve kept our surveillances on and people should also be aware of the importance of wearing masks and obeying other health rules to avoid serious consequences from any new variant of the coronavirus,’ he went on.

New variants, Alamgir further said, have been emerging in various countries recently and the latest one was found in South Africa.

‘The South African variant is infecting young and healthy people and it is also more deadly…so the strategy of wearing masks and following other health practices is crucial alongside the epidemiological and virological surveillance,’ he concluded.

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