20 test positive as passengers from UK come under scanner, Govt issues stringent SOPs



New Delhi: At least 20 passengers from the UK tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday as the government issued a stringent set of SOPs mandating RT-PCR tests at airports for each traveller from the country and isolation in a separate unit of an institutional facility for positive cases in view of the new coronavirus strain.
There is no need to panic but there is cause to be more vigilant, said NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul.
“We are yet to spot such a virus in our country We will be safe if we suppress the genomic sequence,” Paul said at a press conference while stressing that the mutated SARS-CoV-2 strain detected in the UK has no impact on the potential of emerging vaccines.
Ahead of the December 23-31 suspension of flights to and from the UK that comes into effect at 11.59 pm on Tuesday as India joins about 40 others in sealing off the country, passengers were under close watch and hundreds were tested at various airports.
The process took many hours, resulting in scenes of chaos and confusion at several airports, including Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Of the 20 that tested positive, six were on a flight that landed in Delhi at 11.30 pm on Monday, two on a flight that came into Kolkata on Sunday night, four that arrived in Ahmedabad on Tuesday and eight, including a crew member, in Amritsar who also reached today. All were direct Air India flights from London.
According to the government’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for passengers from the UK issued on Tuesday, those testing positive will be isolated in a separate unit of an institutional facility.
“Five passengers were found COVID-positive at the Delhi airport. One passenger who took a connecting flight to Chennai was tested there and found positive,” an official in Delhi said.
A second flight from London landed in Delhi at 6 am on Tuesday and two more were scheduled for the night. All the passengers were being tested, said Dr Gauri Agarwal, founder of the Genestrings Diagnostic Center handling coronavirus testing at Delhi airport.
The positive samples were sent to the National Centre for Disease Control for research on the new strain using next gen sequencing technology which will help understand the implications on ongoing vaccine efficacy, Agarwal told PTI.
“The Delhi government is on alert in the wake of a mutated coronavirus strain detected in the UK,” said Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain..
Jain said Delhi has fought difficult battles with COVID-19 and all efforts will be made to ensure the gains are not reversed.
Other states were also on guard.
In Kolkata, a West Bengal Health and Family Welfare Department official said those sitting near the two passengers who were positive will be told to be in home isolation for two weeks.
The Air India flight from London arrived at around 10.30 am, said Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) Om Prakash Machra. The entire process of testing ended only in the evening with 275 passengers tested. Of the four who tested positive, one is a British national.
Punjab Minister for Medical Education and Research O P Soni said the eight who tested positive for the infection in Amritsar will be quarantined.
With passengers inside the terminal buildings for hours, anxious relatives waited outside for some news.
Amrik Singh, whose son Sukhwinder arrived from the UK, was one of them.
I got a message from inside that several passengers have protested the delay in the sampling and testing process. I failed to understand why all passengers have been detained there for more than 12 hours on the pretext of testing, he said. In Mumbai, no COVID-19 symptomatic person was on board the three flights that came in on Tuesday with about 590 passengers on board. Officials in Hyderabad said 358 passengers had arrived in Telangana from the UK over the last week and efforts were on to trace them.


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