New Delhi: Until now, India was breathing easy: but with detection of six cases of a mutant strain of coronavirus that first surfaced in the UK, there is good reason for alarm.
The new strain is believed to be 70 per cent more infectious, though it may not necessarily be more lethal than Covid-19. Also, the young are particularly at risk.
All six patients recently returned from the UK, where such cases have spiked within days. This is ascribed to the higher transmission rate of the new mutant, which is yet to be put to the vaccine test.
Three of the patients with the mutant are in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, two in Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and one in National Institute of Virology, Pune. All patients have been confined to a "single room" in designated healthcare facilities, reports NDTV. Their close contacts have been traced and also put in quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing of co-travellers, their families and others is also on.
The presence of the UK variant has already been reported by Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore. Moving in tandem with several countries in Europe and elsewhere, on December 21 India had temporarily banned flights from the UK till December 31. This ban, in all probability, may be extended, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri indicated on Tuesday.
Also, all international passengers who arrived in India from December 9 to 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 will be subjected to genome sequencing as part of the Centre's strategy to detect the mutated strain.
Others will be followed up by the state and district surveillance officers, and will be tested as per ICMR guidelines, even if asymptomatic, between fifth and 10th day of arrival, according to the Union Health Ministry's guidance document on genomic sequencing.
The health ministry has established a genomics consortium for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance; it has thereby expanded the whole ambit of genome sequencing of coronavirus in the country, which will aid in understanding how the virus spreads and evolves.
Ten regional laboratories have been identified by the Centre where states will send five per cent of their COVID-19 positive samples for genome sequencing to detect the new coronavirus variant.
The purpose of this initiative is to ensure proper screening of international travellers.
Woman who sneaked out carrying UK variant
A woman who tested positive for Covid at Delhi airport but sneaked out, is carrying the super infectious UK strain. The 47-year-old, who returned from the UK on December 21, had reached Andhra Pradesh by train before she could be traced on December 24. Eleven other flyers have also tested positive for COVID-19 in Andhra Pradesh, but they are not carrying the mutated strain. This seems to suggest that the UK strain of coronavirus has not spread in the state.