New coronavirus strain reaches India; six UK returnees test positive
In a new development, six people who returned from the United Kingdom recently were found to be infected with the new coronavirus strain, which is said to be up to 70% more transmissible. The new variant is responsible for the latest surge of cases in the UK. It also forced the administration of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce new curbs. Here is more.
The new variant has about 20 mutations, including many that impact how the virus infects human cells. Dr. Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific advisor to the British Government, had earlier said that these mutations might make the virus more contagious. However, there's no evidence to suggest vaccines won't work against this variant.
After details of the new variant emerged, the Indian administration suspended flights to and from the UK till December 31. The federal government earlier said that those arriving in India between December 21 and 23 will be subject to RT-PCR tests. If they test positive, a spike gene-based RT-PCR test has to be conducted on the samples to understand if they contracted the variant.
The government's guidelines underlined that there will be no change in treatment if a person is found infected with the mutated strain of the coronavirus. "Necessary action will be taken to send them to home isolation or treatment at the facility level depending on the severity of the cases," the government said last week. The infected patients will remain in separate isolation units.
Following the guidelines, the six UK returnees were put in separate isolation rooms. The close contacts of these people have been quarantined. The government has also initiated a comprehensive contact tracing exercise for their co-travelers, family contacts, and others, reports NDTV.
Meanwhile, the Union Health Ministry said that about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK between November 25 and December 23. All these passengers are being traced and will be tested for coronavirus through the RT-PCR method. "So far only 114 have been found positive for COVID-19," the ministry informed today. The samples of infected persons will now be examined.
In view of the new variant, the government on Monday extended COVID-19 guidelines till January 31, 2021. The guidelines were supposed to remain in place till December 31, 2020. The Union Home Ministry noted that there has been a "continuous decline" in the case tally but one can't lose sight of coronavirus-appropriate behavior like wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining distance from others.
As per the guidelines, containment zones have to be labeled by district authorities at the "micro-level." The government has permitted a number of activities outside containment zones, but restrictions on public gatherings are still in place. Meanwhile, India's coronavirus tally reached 10,224,797 today after 16,432 new cases were detected yesterday, making it the lowest single-day spike since June. The death toll stands at 148,190.