UAE ‘prepared to tackle Indian COVID-19 variant’: Health experts

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Medics across the United Arab Emirates said the country is prepared to tackle the COVID-19 variant found in India, with a surplus of hospital beds and oxygen, healthcare staff and precautionary measures in place.

India is currently grappling with the B.1.617 variant, with the country buckling with hundreds of thousands of new cases every day. The B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer “spike” portion of the virus that attaches to human cells, said senior Indian virologist Shahid Jameel.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the predominant lineage of B.1.617 was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020.

On May 10, the WHO classified it as a “variant of concern,” with several variants falling within this classification, including those first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa. Some studies have showed that the Indian variant spreads more easily.

“There is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said, adding it needs more information about the Indian variant to understand how much of it is circulating.

However doctors across the UAE said residents should not be concerned.

Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in internal medicine at Bareen International Hospital – MBZ City, told Al Arabiya English: “The Indian variant of coronavirus B.1.617 has been detected in 17 countries including UK, USA, Singapore. The spread of cases in India, it is believed, resulted from gatherings in political rallies and religious festivals, while many people are not yet vaccinated.

“A lack of mask-wearing and of social distancing has deepened the gravity of the situation and the high-population density in India is a perfect background for mutations of virus.

“In the UAE, we are at an advantage that a large majority of people have been vaccinated and developed immunity which confers protection against such variants to a great extent,” he added.

Since international travel to and from India is banned, the possibility of the spread of this variant is minimal, said the doctor.

“The community here is well aware about the importance of measures like mask-wearing and avoidance of gatherings,” he said.

“The UAE is well prepared with infrastructure in terms of adequate hospital beds, ICU, ventilators, and oxygen and healthcare staff per population to deal with such emergency situations. But still we should not let our guards down and adhere to all health and safety precautions,” he added.

Dr Gunjan Mahajan, specialist clinical pathologist at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery, Dubai, India is facing a massive surge of COVID-19 cases – recording more than a quarter-million cases per day – and the spike in cases, along with new reported variants in India, is “worrisome for everyone around the world”.

A man and a woman walk past a huge health ministry COVID-19 vaccines announcement outside a medical centre in Dubai on February 16, 2021, as the Gulf emirates goes ahead its vaccination effort. The UAE, home to a population of around 10 million, has administered some 4.6 million doses of vaccine, making it the second-fastest per capita delivery in the world, after Israel. (File photo: AFP)
A man and a woman walk past a huge health ministry COVID-19 vaccines announcement outside a medical centre in Dubai on February 16, 2021, as the Gulf emirates goes ahead its vaccination effort. The UAE, home to a population of around 10 million, has administered some 4.6 million doses of vaccine, making it the second-fastest per capita delivery in the world, after Israel. (File photo: AFP)

However, he too believes people across the UAE should not be concerned.

“In this line, UAE has imposed travel restrictions for passengers from India,” he said.

“Meanwhile, UAE plans to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to all members of society at the earliest to reach acquired immunity resulting from the vaccination.”

The UAE has seen one of the world’s most comprehensive vaccination programs, having administered 11 million doses in total according to the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority (NCEMA).

“This, along with strict adherence to precautionary measures, will help us to be prepared for any possible influx of new cases,” said Dr Mahajan. “Also, new guidelines for passengers traveling from India upon lifting of restrictions (e.g., RT-PCR negative test report with QR code, PCR test, and quarantine on arrival) will help control the spread of the virus.”

Dr Muhammed Shafeeq Kalladi, a pulmonology specialist at Aster Hospital, in Qusais, said: “Acquiring herd immunity through the COVID-19 vaccines is the most successful way to eliminate the virus. As of now majority of the UAE residents are vaccinated.

“The UAE government has taken various steps to prevent coronavirus transmission including spreading awareness among the public, airport screening, imposing fines for the people who are violating the Covid-19 precautionary measures, banning the live entertainments and suspending entry of travelers from the countries having highest number of active cases,” he added, concluding that “the healthcare system in UAE is really efficient to tackle COVID pandemic.”

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