Six UK returnees test positive for new COVID-19 variant, isolated

They are admitted in single room isolation in designated facilities and contact tracing is continuing

The new COVID variant possesses a distinct genetic signature featuring an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in its spike protein, which are more likely to alter its function. | Representational Photo: iStock

At least six samples of UK returnees in India have been found to be positive with the new UK variant genome – three in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, two in CCMB, Hyderabad and one in NIV, Pune. These cases have been reported by Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) Labs.

“All these persons have been kept in single room isolation in designated healthcare facilities by respective state governments,” said INSACOG Labs in a press release.

Their close contacts have also been under quarantine, it said. “Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travelers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on,” it added.

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The presence of the new UK variant has already been reported by Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.

Also read: New COVID strain: Flights from SA, Aus, European nations on govt radar

INSACOG said states are being regularly advised for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing and dispatch of samples to INSACOG labs.

From November 25 to December 23, about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK. All these passengers are being tracked and subjected by states/UTs to RT-PCR tests. So far, only 114 have been found positive, INSACOG said.

“These positive samples have been sent to to 10 INSACOG labs (NIBMG Kolkata, ILS Bhubaneswar, NIV Pune, CCS Pune, CCMB Hyderabad, CDFD Hyderabad , InStem Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, IGIB Delhi and NCDC Delhi) for genome sequencing,” it added.

The Indian government has suspended UK flight operations  from midnight of December 23 till December 31. The standard Operating Protocol for states/UTs to tackle the mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 were issued on December 22.

Also read: Saudi Arabia suspends international flights over new COVID strain

Meanwhile, UK’s National Health Service is struggling to cope with the rising number of COVID patients. England’s “very high” COVID infection level is a “growing concern,” officials have said.

The UK recorded 41,385 cases and 357 deaths on Monday. NHS England said the number of people being treated for the virus in hospital is now 20,426, which is higher than the previous peak of about 19,000 in April. BBC reported that health officials in Wales and Scotland have also said they are at risk of becoming overwhelmed.

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