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Coronavirus highlights, Dec 29: India detects 6 cases of new strain; UK flight suspension likely to be extended

Here are the top Covid-19 developments that you need to know today.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 29, 2020 10:26:20 pm
At a Covid-19 testing center in New Delhi

On a day six cases of the new coronavirus strain were detected in India, the Centre on Tuesday said samples of all Covid-19 symptomatic passengers who arrived in the country from December 9 to 22 would be subjected to genome sequencing. Besides, to check the spread of the more contagious strain of coronavirus, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri hinted that suspension of passenger flights to and from the United Kingdom might be extended.

The new strain is reportedly 70 per cent more infectious than the one that caused the Covid-19 pandemic and was first reported in the United Kingdom. Its presence has already been reported by Pakistan, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore so far.

However, in positive news, daily new infections in India dipped below 20,000 for the third time this month, taking the caseload to 1,02,24,303, while the recoveries crossed 98 lakh, according to Union Health Ministry. A total of 16,432 new infections were reported on Tuesday — the lowest in little over six months — while the death toll increased to 1,48,153, with 252 new fatalities.

Here are the latest Covid-19 developments:

Genome sequencing for all Covid positive flyers who arrived in India from December 9-22

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday said samples of all international passengers who arrived in India from December 9 to 22 and tested positive for Covid-19 would be subjected to genome sequencing. Others will be followed up by the state and district surveillance officers, and will be tested as per ICMR guidelines, even if asymptomatic, between fifth and 10th day of arrival, according to the Health Ministry’s guidance document on genomic sequencing.

Workers dismantle the beds at Covid-19 isolation center at CWG in New Delhi (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Addressing a press conference, the Health Ministry secretary said the government had established Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance and to expand the whole genome sequencing of the coronavirus in the country. “These labs belong to ICMR, BioTech India, CSIR & Health Ministry,” he said.

India detects six cases of new Covid-19 strain, all were travellers from UK

Six people who returned to India from the United Kingdom tested positive for the new mutated strain of coronavirus, the Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday. The coronavirus strain was detected in samples in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, in CCMB, Hyderabad and one in NIV, Pune.

“All these persons have been kept in single room isolation in designated Health Care facilities by respective State Governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on,” the Health Ministry said.

A health worker takes swab sample for Covid-19 test at a testing center in New Delhi

Out of the six, three samples that tested positive for new mutant virus strain were from Karnataka. Of the three samples, two are from one family in Rajajinagar and another from RR Nagar. According to the Karnataka health department, all their primary and secondary contacts have been traced and tested negative for Covid. “There is no need for panic as much of the returnees are tested negative. We are tracing out the people who have switched off their mobile phones,” said Health Minister Dr Sudhakar.

UK flight suspension likely to be extended, says Aviation Minister

India is likely to extend the suspension of passenger flights to and from the United Kingdom to check the spread of the new strain of coronavirus, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said Tuesday. The ministry had last week suspended all flights between the two countries from December 23 to December 31.

“I foresee a slight extension of temporary suspension of India-UK flights,” the minister told a press conference. “In a day or two, we will find out if any additional steps need to be taken, or when we can start easing the current temporary suspension,” he said.

No proof that vaccines won’t work against new variant detected in UK, SA: Govt

Principal Scientific Advisor K Vijay Raghavan said there was no evidence that current vaccines would fail to protect against the SARS-CoV-2 strain reported from the UK or South Africa. Raghavan also said it had not been found that the new variant increases severity of the disease.

“There is no evidence that current vaccines will fail to protect against COVID 19 variants reported from UK or SA. Most vaccines do target the Spike protein, in which there are changes in the variants but vaccines stimulate our immune system to produce a wide range of protective antibodies,” he said.

Despite a consistent decline in the number of new cases, NITI Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul said majority of the population was still susceptible to the infection in the cold weather. “The UK variant has travelled to several other countries and also to India, this variant may have its own run and we have to very careful,” Paul said.

Medical teams celebrate before receiving coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines as Israel kicks off a coronavirus vaccination drive, at Tel Aviv (Reuters)

Former Himachal CM Shanta Kumar’s wife dies from Covid-19

Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar’s wife Santosh Shailza succumbed to coronavirus in the early hours of Tuesday, Health Minister Rajiv Saizal said. She was 83. Shailza was undergoing treatment at Dr Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College in Kangra’s Tanda. She was admitted to the facility after testing positive for Covid-19 last week.

Hospitals being overwhelmed by new Covid-19 peak in the UK

Health experts in the UK warned that hospitals were being overwhelmed by a surge in the Covid-19 pandemic, largely driven by a new highly transmissible variant of coronavirus. According to the figures from National Health Service (NHS) England, 20,426 patients were being treated in hospitals on Monday, compared to 18,974 recorded on April 12 during the first peak of the pandemic this year.

The development comes as the patients who received the first vaccinations three weeks ago will receive their second jab of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which also has a tie-up with the Serum Institute of India, is believed to be on the brink of regulatory approval as well with hopes of a rollout by next week.

Samples being tested for presence of the coronavirus in a district laboratory. (Express Photo)

Belarus starts Covid-19 vaccinations with Russian shots

Belarus on Tuesday announced the start of mass coronavirus vaccinations with the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot, becoming the second country after Russia to roll out a vaccine that is still undergoing late-stage studies to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

“A new stage starts in Belarus today with mass vaccinations against COVID-19. Medical staff, teachers, and those who come into contact a lot of people due to their jobs will be the first to get vaccinated. Vaccination will be entirely voluntary,” Health Minister of Belarus Dmitry Pinevich was quoted as saying by AP.

(With inputs from Darshan Devaiah, Kaunain Sheriff)

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