Suspecting possibility of a new mutated variant of the Covid-19 virus, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation sent samples of a 28-year-old infected man to National Institute of Virology, Pune, on Wednesday to check whether the viral genome sequencing resembles the mutated strain B.1.1.7 lineage reported in the UK.
Health officials said the man had returned from the UK on November 29. He developed fever and other symptoms of Covid-19 in early December and tested positive on December 14.
He remains under home isolation and four of his family members are quarantined. “He is stable and has mild symptoms. But since he returned from the UK, we suspect he may be infected by the mutated virus,” said Dr Narendra Bahirwar, a medical officer in Nagpur corporation.
The B.1.1.7 lineage is a more infectious variant of SARS-CoV-2, it is associated with faster transmission rates with at least 3,100 cases of the variant recorded across the UK through genome sequencing.
India as a precaution against the new strain has suspended flights from the UK till December 31 and started screening all UK return passengers at airports since the last two days.
“There is no reason to panic. The mutated strain is so far not associated with severe outcomes. We are waiting for more data, but we don’t believe the already exposed population is at further risk of another infection. Immunity against Covid-19 in recovered patients should work against the variant,” said state epidemiologist Dr Pradeep Awate.
Awate said they have undertaken citizen surveillance to ensure there is no spike in transmission. Maharashtra continues to show a downward trend in Covid-19 cases with active caseload at over 54,000 and new cases between 3,000-4,000 every day. The state recorded 3,913 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday taking the count to 19.06 lakhs.
In Mumbai, 1,688 passengers have landed from the UK and Middle East between Tuesday and Wednesday, of them 745 have been quarantined in hotels and homes and 602 have travelled on to other states. “We have only sent samples for testing of a few symptomatic passengers. None have come positive so far,” said Dr Daksha Shah, deputy executive health officer in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
BMC plans to reach out to all passengers who have flown from the UK and Middle East since November 25. Shah said health officers will make phone calls, inquire about possible symptoms and test only those with symptoms. “We are advising 14 days quarantine to those who have returned from the UK and middle east,” she said.
Dr Mangala Gomare, executive health officer, BMC, said, “We are just being cautious by screening all passengers from the UK. Those with onward flight to other states are allowed to leave. We are now going to reach out to passengers who arrived in the last one month.”
Health officers will first trace passengers who landed between November 25 till December 8, in the next phase passengers who arrived between December 9 till December 21 will be reached out.
Civic officials, however, said several may have already interacted within the community after their return and contact tracing may pose a challenge if the new variant strain has already entered the city. The BMC has requested passengers travelling from UK over last one month to reach out to a local doctor or BMC health post for a screening of symptoms.
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