Genome sequencing will be conducted on all international passengers who were symptomatic and tested positive for coronavirus in the 14 days from December 9 to 22, the government said after six people tested positive for the super-infectious UK strain of the virus today. The rest will be followed up by the states and their local administration.
The longer time span and sweeping scope was decided on after it became clear that the mutant virus has spread beyond UK.
While the country temporarily banned flights from the UK on December 21, the UK strain of virus -- said to be 70 per cent more contagious -- has reached Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.
"It is easy to suppress the virus in the starting. Once the transmission is too widespread, it is hard to control," Dr VK Paul, a member of Niti Aayog, said at the health ministry briefing this evening.
While doctors say there is no evidence that the new strain leads to more fatalities or cannot be controlled by existing vaccines, its super-spreader nature is likely to put more people at risk, especially the vulnerable section of the population.
Earlier today, while announcing the detection of the UK strain, the government said the situation is "under careful watch".
The samples are currently being tested at the labs of INSACOG -- the genomic surveillance consortium formed to detect the presence of different strains of coronavirus in India. Eventually, 10 laboratories across the country will be carrying out genome sequencing, the government said.
The list includes NIBMG Kolkata, ILS Bhubaneswar, NIV Pune, CCS Pune, CCMB Hyderabad, CDFD Hyderabad, InSTEM Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, IGIB Delhi and NCDC Delhi.
In the coming days, the government plans to conduct genome sequencing also on 5 per cent of the people who tested positive in the country since November 23, to zero in on any fresh mutation.
The samples must have "proper representation particularly from the metro cities where there is high probability of having the new SARS-CoV-2 variant", the government said.