Six UK returnees test positive for contagious variant of COVID-19

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New Delhi: Six persons who returned to India from the United Kingdom have tested positive for the new mutated strain of coronavirus, the Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

It said the UK variant genome of SARS-CoV-2 was detected in three samples in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences Hospital (NIMHANS) Bengaluru, two in the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and one in the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune.

All these persons 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, the ministry said.

“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, so far.

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 by states and UTs to RT-PCR tests.

So far 114 have been found positive for COVID-19. These positive samples have been sent to 10 INSACOG labs (NIBMG Kolkata, ILS Bhubaneswar, NIV Pune, CCS Pune, CCMB Hyderabad, CDFD Hyderabad, InSTEM Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, IGIB Delhi, NCDC Delhi) for genome sequencing.

“A total of 6 samples of 6 UK returnee persons have been found to be positive with the new UK variant genome,” the ministry said.

The Government of India took cognizance of the reports of virus reported from UK and put in place a pro-active and preventive strategy to detect and contain the mutant variant.

This strategy included temporary suspension of all flights coming from UK with effect from the midnight of 23rd December 2020 till 31st December 2020 and mandatory testing of all UK returnee air passengers through RT-PCR test.

The samples of all UK returnees found positive in RT-PCR test to be genome sequenced by a consortium of 10 government labs.

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, 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 said.

Over the last few weeks, the United Kingdom has faced a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in South East England, leading to enhanced epidemiological and virological investigations, the ministry had said.

Analysis of viral genome sequence data identified that a large proportion of cases belonged to a new single phylogenetic cluster. The new variant is defined by multiple spike protein mutations present as well as mutations in the other genomic regions.

While it is known and expected that viruses constantly change through mutations leading to the emergence of new variants, preliminary analysis (based on epidemiological and mathematical model) in the UK suggests that this variant is significantly more transmissible than previously circulating variants, with an estimated potential to increase the reproductive number (R) by 0.4 or greater with an estimated increased transmissibility of up to 70 per cent.

“However, there is no experimental evidence or indication at this point of increased infection severity associated with the aforementioned new variant,” the ministry has said. (PTI)

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