How justified is the doctors' strike in Delhi

Entry from India stopped : How dangerous is virus variant B.1.617 for Germany?

The pictures are dramatic - and so are the numbers: India is being shaken by a real storm of new infections with the corona virus. Medical oxygen is running out in many places, and people with Covid-19 can no longer be ventilated. In front of clinics, patients desperately beg for admission and the crematoria are also overloaded.

One cause is apparently the virus variant B.1.617. Because of the development in the country with its 1.3 billion inhabitants, Germany is now drawing conclusions. Entries from India to Germany are largely stopped.

"In order not to endanger our vaccination campaign, travel to India must be significantly restricted," wrote Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Saturday in the online service Twitter. From Monday morning midnight, according to Spahn, only Germans and foreigners with a right of residence in the Federal Republic of India are allowed to enter. They are required to test before departure as well as a 14-day quarantine after arrival in Germany.

"The newly discovered virus mutation in India worries us very much," said Spahn. Great Britain and Italy are also stopping entries from the country.

In India, the Ministry of Health reported a sad world record on Sunday with 349,691 new cases within one day. For the fourth day in a row, more than 300,000 new infections and more than 2,000 deaths were registered there.

In the past week alone, more than two million cases were recorded - an increase of 58 percent compared to the previous week, according to a calculation by the AFP news agency, citing data from the health authorities. The American Johns Hopkins University has reported almost 17 million confirmed infections and more than 192,000 Covid-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

This huge country currently has significantly fewer cases per one million inhabitants with around 12,500 infections and 142 Covid-19 deaths than, for example, Germany (around 39,700 / 984). However, experts suspect that the number of unreported cases in India is much higher.

The SPD health expert and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach had been alarmed by developments in India for several days in a row. On Twitter, he named the virus variant B.1.617. "Worrying". In Great Britain, where there is a high proportion of vaccinated people in addition to the British variant, it is growing faster than all other variants. "In India, the 3rd wave is exploding with this variant," says Lauterbach.

Since this could also prevail with vaccinated people, "Europe is also facing a problem," wrote the doctor in another tweet. And tweeted the next day: "We have to protect our vaccination against these mutations."

The deputy head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lars Schaade, also said on Friday that it was conceivable “that the variant will present us with new challenges”. But the evidence is not there yet. "We have to look there, warnings have to be taken seriously." It is also a matter of avoiding the further introduction of the variant to Germany.

The number of previous evidence is 21, as the RKI had already written in a report published on Wednesday. “At the moment we do not see any tendency towards widespread use within Germany. But we have that in view, ”emphasized Schaade.

The mutant is called a "double variant" because there are two special mutations in the so-called spike protein, explained Schaade. It is assumed that one of these mutations undermines the antibody response and the other mutation the second arm of the immune response. That is a theory against the background of observations in other variants with such mutations. But that is not proven, there is no secured data.

[More on the subject: fear of corona mutants - what you need to know now about the new virus variants]

In contrast, a new study from India gives rise to hope. Scientists come to the conclusion that the Indian mutant (B.1.617) is well neutralized with the antibodies of vaccinated or infected people. The protective effect is only slightly weakened.

World Doctors President Frank Ulrich Montgomery also called for comprehensive protective measures. The Indian mutant is apparently "more contagious and worse in the course of the disease" than previously known virus variants, he told the "Rheinische Post". "Therefore, all measures to restrict contact with potentially infected people are justified."

According to information from the dpa news agency, the federal government is also considering temporarily stopping air traffic with India. As it was said in government circles, the decision has been prepared in the Federal Ministry of Transport for days. The topic is not only direct flights, but also flights via airports on the Gulf and the Bosporus.

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Apparently, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had previously intervened. The RKI had classified India as a high risk area, but not yet as a virus variant area. The rules for virus variant areas are much stricter: Entrants must be in quarantine for 14 days without the option of shortening the time. In addition, airlines are not allowed to carry certain groups of people from these regions. This usually means that only a few flights are offered.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (70) called on all citizens on Sunday to get vaccinated and to be careful. After coping with the first wave, one was in good spirits, Modi said in a radio address, as reported by the Reuters news agency. "But this storm shook the nation," said Modi.

Modi's government has come under fire for resuming mass events after infection numbers dropped to less than 10,000 a day in October and November. There were big wedding celebrations again, numerous spectators watched in the huge Narendra Modi Stadium as India defeated England in cricket. Tens of thousands of farmers took part in protests against new agricultural laws.

[You can find all current developments in the coronavirus pandemic here in our news blog. At this point we will keep you up to date on developments in Berlin in particular.]

At the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious celebrations in the world, an estimated 25 million pilgrims crowded together between January and mid / late April, most of them without a mask. Many states also hosted election campaign events, including one of Modi with an estimated 800,000 participants, according to the AFP news agency. In addition, the means of transport, especially in the metropolises, are still as overcrowded as they were before the pandemic.

After suspicions about existing herd immunity in the country were not confirmed, hopes now rest on the vaccinations. So far, almost 140 million Indians have received a vaccine, and from May 1st, all adults are entitled to a vaccination. On the one hand, however, there are reports that the vaccine is becoming scarce in some areas. On the other hand, because of the variant B.1.617. new question marks.

Another reason for the dramatic development is India's health system, which has been underfunded for decades. Experts criticize that nothing was done after the first wave. In the hospitals, the stocks of medicines were not replenished, nor were ventilators purchased.

In addition, there was a chronic shortage of medical oxygen in the country even before the coronavirus crisis, which is essential for the treatment of patients with severe disease. In the meantime, the central government of the AFP agency is increasingly trying to get oxygen deliveries from other countries. Systems are also to be delivered from Germany. The government also organized special trains to bring oxygen to the worst hit cities.

The authorities in the capital New Delhi have meanwhile extended the existing requirements. The lockdown will remain in force for another week, New Delhi's Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a video message on Sunday. "The devastation caused by the coronavirus continues, and there is no breathing space." The financial metropolis of Mumbai is also trying to curb the spread of the virus with nightly curfews and other restrictions.

Several countries - including the USA - have since announced aid for India. “Germany stands side by side in solidarity with India. We are preparing a support mission as soon as possible, ”said Merkel on Sunday in Berlin, according to her spokesman Steffen Seibert. "The fight against the pandemic is our common fight."

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