The Union Health Ministry said on Wednesday that 20 people who returned to India from the United Kingdom have tested positive for the new UK variant genome of SARS-CoV-2 so far.
The tally includes six people who were found positive for the new virus strain on Tuesday.
The ministry said the mutated UK strain was detected in eight samples at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), one at the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kalyani (near Kolkata), one at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune, seven at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences Hospital (NIMHANS) Bengaluru, two at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and one at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi.
The ministry on Tuesday said six UK returnees were found positive for the mutated UK variant genome and that all these people have been kept in single room isolation at designated health care facilities by respective state governments and their close contacts have also been put under quarantine.
“Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on. The situation is under careful watch and regular advice is being provided to the states for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing and dispatch of samples to INSACOG labs,” the ministry said.
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.
The ministry said that from November 25 to December 23 midnight, about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK. All these passengers are being tracked and subjected to RT-PCR tests by states and Union Territories.
The Government of India took cognizance of the reports of the virus reported from the UK and put in place a proactive and preventive strategy to detect and contain the mutant variant, it said.
This strategy includes the temporary suspension of all flights coming from the UK with effect from the midnight of December 23 till December 31 and mandatory testing of all UK-returned air passengers through RT-PCR test. The samples of all UK returnees found positive in RT-PCR test will be genome sequenced by a consortium of 10 government labs i.e. INSACOG.
Also, a meeting of the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 was held on December 26 to consider and recommend testing, treatment, surveillance and containment strategy.
Besides, a standard operating protocol for states and UTs to tackle the mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 was issued on December 22.
The entire issue was examined at length by the NTF on December 26 and the NTF concluded that there is no need to change either the existing National Treatment Protocol or existing testing protocols in view of the mutant variant.
The NTF also recommended that in addition to the existing surveillance strategy, it is critical to conduct enhanced genomic surveillance, the ministry had said.
The variant was first discovered in September 2020. By December, about 70% of the new cases in Kent region were affected by this new variant, causing alarm that this variant may be more infectious. December 19, the UK health secretary announced in the British parliament that the variant, dubbed B.1.1.7 is spreading rapidly in the UK. Keeping the Christmas and New year holidays in mind, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stricter lockdowns.
(With inputs from Agencies)