More than 40 countries, including India, have banned travel to and from the UK, a move several scientists said was necessary given the rapid spread of the new viral strain, VUI-202012/0, that was detected on September 21.
The health ministry also issued a standard operating procedure for flyers returning from the UK to trace and stall the new strain of the virus from spreading in the country.
On Sunday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) announced that the rapid increase of a SARS-CoV-2 variant with multiple spike protein mutations have been observed in the UK.
Allaying fears over the mutated SARS-CoV-2 strain detected in the UK, the government on Tuesday said it would have no impact on the potential of emerging vaccines. Addressing a press conference, NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V K Paul said there was no need to “panic” and “we are yet to spot such a virus in our country”.
“As of now, based on our discussions, deep understanding of data available and our deep assessment, there is no need to panic but it is a cause to be more vigilant. This new challenge we have to counter with our comprehensive efforts. We will be safe if we suppress the genomic sequence,” Paul said.
Paul said that the mutation might result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people. “It is also being said that in these viruses, the transmissibility has increased by 70 per cent, you can also call them super spreader in a way but it does not increase the propensity of death, hospitalisation and severity of the disease. What is affected is tendency to affect more people that by itself is a cause of concern. It is an adverse development,” he said.
The SOP pertains to flyers who have travelled from or transited through the UK from November 25 to December 23. “All passengers coming from the UK from December 21 to 23 would be subjected to the RT-PCR test on arrival and this has to be ensured by respective state governments. Those found negative in RT-PCR test at the airport would be advised quarantine at home and followed up,” the ministry said.
The ministry asked state governments to isolate those passengers testing positive an institutional isolation facility in a separate unit coordinated by the respective state health authorities. “In case of a positive sample, it is recommended that spike gene-based RT-PCR test should also be performed by an appropriate laboratory,” it said.
It also said that all contacts (without any exception) of those passengers who tested positive upon arrival between December 21-23 would also be subjected to institutional quarantine. “Contacts of the suspect case are the co-passengers seated in the same row, three rows in front and three rows behind along with identified cabin crew,” the ministry said.
BMC commissioner IS Chahal had said all passengers arriving from the UK in the five flights till Tuesday night would be kept in institutional quarantine in hotels, and the passengers showing Covid-19 symptoms would be admitted at Seven Hills hospital, PTI reported.
A passenger who arrived in Chennai from London via Delhi tested positive for coronavirus and genomes from his sample would be analysed to see if it matched with the new strain of the virus detected in the UK. The passenger was among 15 flyers who were tested for Covid-19.
“We have sent samples to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune to find whether it was the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is believed to be spreading and growing rapidly,” said state Health Minister C Vijayabaskar. Over 1,000 passengers who arrived from the UK in the past about 10 days were being monitored for symptoms, he said.
The government has decided to test all those who have arrived from the UK in the last 15days. “We are monitoring all airports in the state, and borders near Bangalore and Trivandrum for passengers who travelled from the UK via different countries and Indian airports,” he said.
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