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Fresh reason for worry: 81% of Punjab samples positive for UK variant

The process needs to be expedited, Captain Amarinder Singh said, pointing to the fact that experts had found the existing Covishield vaccine to be equally effective against the UK variant of the virus.

By: Express News Service | Chandigarh |
Updated: March 24, 2021 1:31:38 am
81% of 401 samples from Punjab found having UK strain81% of the latest 401 samples sent by Punjab for genome sequencing turned positive for the new UK Covid variant.(Express File Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

Eighty-one per cent of the 401 samples sent by the Punjab government for genome sequencing have tested positive for the UK variant of Covid-19, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh Tuesday said. The samples were sent for testing at National Centre for Disease Control.

“A total of 401 samples, collected between 1.1.2021 and 10.3.2021, were sent to NCDC for genome sequencing. The result of these samples was worrying as it showed presence of B.1.1.7 variant in 326 Covid samples,” said a government statement quoting head of the state’s Covid expert committee Dr K K Talwar.

Expressing concern, Amarinder urged the Centre to widen the vaccination net to cover those younger than 60 as the mutant strain has been found to be infecting young people more.

“The process needs to be expedited,” he said, pointing to the fact that experts had found the Covishield vaccine to be equally effective against the UK variant—B.1.1.7. It is essential to vaccinate more and more people to break the chain of transmission,” he said.

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The state government, which has already announced fresh restrictions, would be forced to impose more curbs if people don’t follow Covid appropriate behaviour, he warned urging people to get themselves vaccinated.

The appeal from the CM came after Dr Talwar apprised him of developments on the new variant in the state, which has been witnessing a surge in the number of cases in the last few weeks. The United Kingdom is home to a large Punjabi diaspora.

“The state health department had sent 478 Covid positive samples to NIB (National Institute of Biologicals), IGIB (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi), and NCDC for genome sequencing, of which results of 90 samples were received and those showed only two samples for N440K (a coronavirus variant),” the statement said.

Punjab’s nodal officer for Covid-19, Dr Rajesh Bhaskar said that N440K strain is from Maharashtra and Kerala. Prior to that one sample of a passenger, who had come from the UK, was found carrying the B.1.1.7 strain. “The UK passenger was immediately isolated and he recovered. After those three cases, now 326 samples of 401 which we had sent for genome sequencing, have shown presence of UK strain. These are the first native cases of Punjab which have shown the UK strain. This strain is more contagious and infects 70 per cent more people but is not that fatal or severe. Still it is a matter of concern because more people testing positive means extreme pressure on health infrastructure and requirement of more beds in hospitals,” said Dr Bhaskar.

After two samples from state were found carrying N440K strain, a team from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, visited Punjab to review the increase in positivity. The team was also informed about the pending results of genome sequencing, the government statement added.

The CM said that he has been informed by Dr Talwar that though the UK variant is more infectious yet not more virulent. Further, the Oxford (Covishield) vaccine is equally effective against the UK variant.

Asked about the 81 per cent cases from Punjab samples being detected with the UK variant of the virus, Union Minster Prakash Javadekar, addressing a press briefing in New Delhi said, the virus is coming out in new variants and forms. That is why getting vaccinated is important as that is the only shield, he said. “One has to continue using masks and maintaining social distancing and washing hands is also important, but vaccination is the only shield,” he noted.

Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said the samples that tested positive for the UK variant were taken from a cross section of population. “This means, this strain has spread in a bigger measure, which is a serious concern for us as transmission rate of this strain is quite high,” Sidhu said.

Touching upon the overall Covid spread in the state, he said urban areas were more affected. However, the death rate is more in the rural belt, the minister said. Many people, especially the youth, don’t follow Covid-related protocols and they are being urged not to be complacent, he said.

When asked how serious is the UK strain, Dr Talwar said, “It is infectious and the transmission rate of the infection is quite high as compared to the original virus. There is not much difference in variants but the UK strain spreads more quickly and younger people also get affected”.

Talwar said the Punjab government has already imposed several restrictions to control the coronavirus spread.

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