“The first case of the Indian variant of Covid-19 has been discovered in Switzerland,” Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health said in a tweet.
The virus variant was found in “a passenger who arrived in Switzerland after transiting through a European airport.”
The health authority corrected its initial announcement to make it clear that the passenger had transited in another European country before travelling to
Switzerland, rather than transiting in Switzerland itself.
“The person changed flights in a European country before flying on to Switzerland,” spokesman Daniel Dauwalder confirmed to AFP in an email, adding that the positive sample was collected in March in the northern canton of Solothurn.
The Federal Office of Public Health is meanwhile discussing whether to add India to its “red list” of high-risk countries, it said on Saturday.
Only a few days earlier, Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset said the government had decided not to put India on the red list as there were no direct flights between the country and Switzerland currently, according to Swiss website 20 Minuten.
People arriving from countries placed on Switzerland’s red list are required to quarantine for 10 days.
But Dauwalder pointed out that India already figured on a separate list held by the State Secretariat for Migration, which meant that for now, in most cases, only Swiss citizens and residents were permitted to enter Switzerland after a stay in India.
Switzerland puts countries and regions on the red list once Covid-19 infection rates remain significantly higher than Switzerland’s for a period of 14 days.
Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has so far only listed the variant as a “variant of interest”, that is one that is “suspected” to be either more contagious than the original strain, cause more severe disease, or escape the protection offered by vaccines.
Manfred Weber, Leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, has called for all flights from India to the EU to be completely stopped, warning that the situation was getting out of control, German daily Bild reported.
Countries have been on high alert for the new “double mutant” variant, known as B.1.617, with several having already suspended flights from India.
More contagious variant?
There is concern that vaccines protect less effectively against this variant because of the two mutations in key areas of the virus’ spike protein.
Professor Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian that the arrival of the India variant was potentially worrying.
“These two escape mutations working together could be a lot more problematic than the South African and Brazilian variants who have only got one escape mutation,” he said. “It might be even less controlled by vaccine than the Brazilian and South African variants.”
However, other experts were less concerned.
“It is not possible to discern a reliable trend from the few observations we have, but we should observe it closely,” Richard Neher, Head of the Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria Research Group at the University of Basel’s Centre of Molecular Life Sciences, according to Stern magazine.
Given the lack of knowledge about the many variants with noteworthy mutations, Neher said he did not believe that the Indian variant deserved any more concern than others.
Christian Drosten, a virologist at Berlin’s Charité teaching hospital, also did not see the new variant as a cause for concern, he said in an NDR podcast at the end of March.
Since the start of the pandemic, in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 646,509 people have tested positive for Covid-19 and 9,955 people have died from the virus, according to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.
As of April 21st, 9.8 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated against coronavirus with two doses of a vaccine.
The news of the variant’s arrival in Switzerland comes after Belgian authorities on Thursday said a group of 20 Indian nursing students who arrived from Paris had tested positive for the variant in the country.
India’s healthcare system is meanwhile buckling under a new wave of infections.
On Saturday, Covid-19 case numbers and deaths in the country set another grim new record.
The number of deaths across India climbed by 2,624 in the 24 hours to Saturday, up from Friday’s 2,263, as the country struggles to cope amid full intensive care units and a shortage of oxygen supplies.
A total of almost 190,000 people have died of coronavirus in India, according to official figures.