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%.
"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.
India records 16,432 new cases
The daily new coronavirus infections in India dipped below 20,000 for the third time this month taking the COVID-19 caseload to 1,02,24,303, while the recoveries crossed 98 lakh, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Tuesday.
A total of 16,432 new infections were reported in a span of 24 hours, the lowest in little over six months, while the death toll increased to 1,48,153 with 252 new fatalities, the data updated at 8 a.m showed
The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 98,07,569 pushing the national recovery rate to 95.92%, while the COVID-19 case fatality rate stands at 1.45% .
The COVID-19 active caseload remained below three lakh for the eighth consecutive day.
There are 2,68,581 active coronavirus infections in the country which comprises 2.63% of the total caseload, the data stated.
India's COVID-19 tally had crossed the 20-lakh mark on August 7, 30 lakh on August 23, 40 lakh on September 5 and 50 lakh on September 16. It went past 60 lakh on September 28, 70 lakh on October 11, crossed 80 lakh on October 29, 90 lakh on November 20 and surpassed the one-crore mark on December 19.
According to the ICMR, 16,98,01,749 samples have been tested up to December 28 with 9,83,695 samples being tested on Monday.
The 252 new fatalities include 50 from Maharashtra, 27 from West Bengal, 26 from Chhattisgarh and 21 from Delhi.
A total of 1,48,153 deaths have been reported so far in the country including 49,305 from Maharashtra followed by 12,080 from Tamil Nadu, 12,070 from Karnataka, 10,474 from Delhi, 9,625 from West Bengal, 8,322 from Uttar Pradesh, 7,098 from Andhra Pradesh and 5,312 from Punjab.