India / New Covid-19 strain is a 'super-spreader', 70% more transmissible: Govt

Zoom News : Dec 23, 2020, 11:15 AM
New Delhi: The government on Tuesday said the highly infectious Covid-19 strain found in the UK and some other countries has so far not been seen in India, even as it issued standard operating procedures (SOP), that include contact tracing for all passengers who have travelled from or transited through the UK in the past four weeks.

“To the best of our knowledge we have yet to spot such a virus in our country,” said Niti Ayog member and head of the national expert group on Covid-19 vaccination VK Paul at a media briefing.

Paul played down fears over the new mutant which has sparked concerns worldwide, spooked global markets, and resulted in 40 countries, including India, imposing a ban on travel to and from the UK.

“The new strain found in the UK has increased transmissibility but this mutation is not affecting the severity of the disease,” said Paul.

‘Studying Genome Sequencing’

“Hospitalisation is not affected by this mutation, case fatality, seriousness of the disease is not affected by this mutation. What is affected is the tendency to infect more people. That by itself is cause for concern,” he added.

Describing the new strain, which is said to be 70% more infectious than the earlier ones, as a ‘super spreader’ and an ‘adverse development’ in the fight against Covid-19, Paul said India needs to be watchful.

“We are fortunate that we have a robust laboratory system in place. We have been studying genome sequencing systematically. So far we have not seen such a mutation but we have to be watchful,” he said.

The mutations which have been detected in India so far are “insignificant”, he added.

While concerns have been expressed about whether the Covid-19 jabs will be effective against the new mutant, Paul said as of now there is no evidence to suggest there will be any impact on the potential of the vaccines being developed in India and which are available in other countries.

On Tuesday, the health ministry also announced SOPs for all incoming passengers who have travelled from or transited through the UK between November 25 and December 23. The SOPs include contact tracing of all passengers concerned during this period, mandatory RT-PCR tests for all arrivals between December 21 and December 23, isolation for those testing positive and institutional quarantine for contacts of passengers who test positive. According to the government, contacts will include all those within three rows of the infected passenger.

Samples of passengers tested positive will be sent to the National Institute of Virulogy (Pune) as well as any other appropriate lab for genomic sequencing. If the report of the sequencing is consistent with the current SARS-CoV-2 virus genome circulating in the country, the ongoing treatment protocol, including home isolation, will be followed. But if the genomic sequencing indicates presence of new variant of the virus, the patient will continue to remain in separate isolation unit until he tests negative.

The health ministry also stipulated that state-wise passenger lists of the flights from UK that landed at various International airports in India for the past four weeks shall be sent by the Bureau of Immigration to state governments and their Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP)

Travellers from the UK who arrived in India between November 25 and December 8 will be contacted by district surveillance officers and advised to self-monitor their health. If anyone develops symptoms, the person will be tested and if the results are found positive, the sample will undergo genome sequencing.

Travellers who arrived between December 9 and 23 will be contacted daily by district surveillance officers for 14 days from their date of arrival. They too will have to self-monitor their health and inform the surveillance officers if they develop symptoms. They will undergo a similar process of testing and genome sequencing.

All the community contacts of those travellers who have tested positive would be subjected to institutional quarantine in separate quarantine centres as well.

Meanwhile, India on Tuesday recorded 19,556 new Covid-19 cases, the lowest in six months, according to data from the Union health ministry. The total number of coronavirus cases in the country now stands at 100,75,116.