Variant spreading in SL confirmed as B117 UK variant

Thursday, 29 April 2021 00:18 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The COVID-19 variant spreading across the island causing a surge in patients has been confirmed as the B117 variant, which originated in the United Kingdom (UK).

Public concern about the spread of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year has raised questions about the virus, especially given fears about the Indian variant, and the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) yesterday addressed these concerns at a special press briefing.

With the increase of patients and discourse that COVID-19 patients were displaying symptoms at a higher rate than previous strains, the Health Ministry handed over the task of determining the variant spreading in the country to the Sri Jayewardenepura University laboratory, the University’s Immunology and Molecular Medicine Department Director Dr. Chandima Jeewandara said.

“We carried out studies on this over the past few days and, after studying 43 samples collected from Colombo, Kurunegala, and Boralesgamuwa, we [yesterday] morning concluded that the virus that is spreading is the B117 variant from the UK,” Dr. Jeewandara said.

He went on to say that, previously, the UK variant was mostly detected from quarantine centres but almost all patients detected from the community now have the UK variant.

“We first suspected this variant on 8 April in samples collected from Boralasgamuwa and informed the Health Ministry of the development of a troublesome variant,” he said. According to Dr. Jeewandara, all tiers of contacts of the eight patients detected were tested within a day, pointing to another way in which the B117 variant entered the community.

The laboratory is carrying out further studies and has received a large volume of samples from all districts of the country. Findings from these studies will be released in the coming week.

“This variant is somewhat troublesome and scientific evidence has proved there is a 55% increase in the number of deaths and that transmissibility increases to up to 50%. On the bright side, this variant is extremely sensitive to the AstraZeneca vaccine being used in Sri Lanka.”

Despite this, Dr. Jeewandara stressed that precautions must be taken by the public to prevent the spread of the UK variant. He explained that it is not like the variants previously seen in Sri Lanka and added that most COVID-19 deaths in India are due to the UK variant and not the Indian variant.

When asked if the variant spread through air or droplets, Dr. Jeewandara explained that it was more important to take precautions on the assumption it is also airborne instead of arguing over how virus transmission takes place.


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