India / New strain of coronavirus found in UK not seen in India so far: Govt

Zoom News : Dec 22, 2020, 06:11 PM
New Delhi: A mutated and more aggressive strain of the novel coronavirus - which was first identified in the United Kingdom in September - has not been seen in India so far, the government said Tuesday.

The new strain - initial data suggests it is at least 70 per cent more easily transmitted - has sparked concern worldwide, amid surging infection rates in the UK and fears the first lot of vaccines may not be as effective against the mutation.

"The new strain or mutation of (the) coronavirus in the United Kingdom has not been seen in India, so far," Dr VK Paul, a member of government think-tank NITI Aayog, said.

"(And) as of now, it has no impact on the potential of vaccines being developed in our country and (which) are available in other countries," he added.

India has joined over 25 other countries in imposing a temporary ban on all flights to and from the UK; the ban begins midnight Wednesday and will be in place till December 31.

This morning the government also announced SOPs for all incoming passengers until then.

The SOPs include mandatory RT-PCR tests for all arrivals and isolation for those testing positive, as well as 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.

Eight passengers who arrived last night on two separate flights from London have tested positive for the virus. Those on a British Airways flight that landed in Delhi today were tested but found negative.

On Monday Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the mutated strain (named B.1.1.7) may already be present in other countries. Cases of the mutated virus, which has around 17 potentially significant changes in its viral genetic code, have been reported from Italy, Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands, with another mutation detected in South Africa.

"The UK is one of those countries that is doing a lot of whole genome sequencing and is therefore able to track this very closely in real time. I suspect that as more countries look at their data, they might find this variant, or a related variant, might already be there," Dr Swaminathan told NDTV.

However, she also said it is still too early to draw conclusions about the new strain - which initial data suggests is up to 70 per cent more transmissible - and that it is "unlikely a couple of mutations" could affect the immune system's response to one of the existing Covid vaccines.

Also on Monday, the head of the European Union's medicines regulator said the Pfizer vaccine could protect against the new virus. The vaccine, which has already been rolled out in the UK and been cleared by the United States and EU, is one of three being considered for emergency use in India.

The developers of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine - of which India will manufacture about 300 million doses next year - have said their vaccine will be "highly effective" against the mutated virus. 

Last week Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan urged people not to panic over the new UK strain, and said the situation is under control. "At this time, I would say, don't get hassled with imaginary situations... The government is fully alert," he said.

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