The highly infectious new coronavirus strain found in the UK, leading to about 40 countries cutting off travel ties with the country, has not yet been detected in India, the government confirmed on Tuesday even as the Health Ministry issued guidelines for passengers coming from Britain. The development came even as at least 20 passengers from the UK tested positive for Covid-19 while several states scrambled to issue their own guidelines.
The guidelines come a day after the government decided that all flights originating from the UK to India shall be temporarily suspended till 11:59 pm, 31st December.
Issuing a statement, the Health Ministry said this new variant of the virus, named VUI-202012/01, was estimated by the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) to be “more transmissible and affecting younger population”. “This variant is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations. One of the most significant changes…may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people,” the statement said.
The number of daily new coronavirus infections reported in the country was recorded below 20,000 — after nearly six months — while the active caseload fell below 3 lakh. India’s Covid-19 caseload rose to 1,00,75,116, with 19,556 new infections being reported on Tuesday. The death toll increased to 1,46,111, with 301 new fatalities.
Here are the top Covid-19 developments today:
New Covid strain will have no impact on emerging vaccines: Govt
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.
Govt issues guidelines for UK passengers, RT-PCR tests mandatory
Compulsory RT-PCR tests on arrival, separate isolation of those testing positive for the new variant of coronavirus and institutional quarantine for co-passengers of those testing positive are among the salient features of the standard operating procedure issued by the Health Ministry for passengers coming from the UK.
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.
590 passengers from UK land in Mumbai in three flights
Nearly 600 passengers landed in Mumbai from the UK in three aircraft on Tuesday and no Covid-19 symptomatic person was on board these flights. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) in Mumbai announced that all passengers arriving from the Middle East and European countries would be subjected to mandatory institutional quarantine.
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.
In order to prevent spread of the new Covid strain, BMC has issued the following orders. “All passengers arriving from UK will undergo mandatory institutional quarantine at their own cost, in the nearby hotel for 7 days. Symptomatic passengers will be shifted to Seven Hills Hospital. Passenger will pay for the RT-PCR test to be conducted between the fifth and seventh day,” BMC tweeted.
“If tested negative, passenger would be discharged with 7 days mandatory home quarantine. Positive asymptomatic
patients will be quarantined at the hotel or Covid-19 hospital for 14 days. Transport arrangements for passengers will be made by BEST,” the BMC tweeted.
Tamil Nadu tightens Covid-19 rules, passenger from UK tests positive
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.
BioNTech CEO confident Pfizer vaccine will work on UK variant
German pharmaceutical company BioNTech said it was confident that its vaccine would work against the new UK variant. “Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants,” CEO Ugur Sahin told a news conference.
Sahin said the proteins on the UK variant were 99 per cent the same as on the prevailing strains. “But we will know it only if the experiment is done and we will need about two weeks from now to get the data,” he said.
“The likelihood that our vaccine works…is relatively high. Should the vaccine need to be adjusted for the new variant the company could do so in about 6 weeks,” Sahin said. The Pfizer vaccine, which has been found to be 95 per cent effective in preventing infection, has been authorised for use in more than 45 countries including Britain, the United States and the EU.
UK scientists probe new coronavirus variant’s spread in children
Scientists in the UK are investigating the impact of the new mutant variant of coronavirus on children and whether its faster transmission was due to the younger segment of the population. “Children are equally susceptible, perhaps, to this virus as adults, and therefore given their mixing patterns, you would expect to see more children being infected,” PTI quoted Professor Wendy Barclay, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), as saying.
Earlier strains of coronavirus found it harder to infect children than adults, with one explanation being that children have fewer of the doorways called the ACE2 receptor the virus uses to enter human cells.