- All six patients recently returned from the UK
- Three patients are in Bengaluru now, two in Hyderabad and one in Pune
- All patients are in "single room isolation" in healthcare facilities
Six cases of a mutant strain of coronavirus that first surfaced in the UK, have been detected in the country. The new strain is believed to be 70 per cent more infectious, but doctors have said there is no reason yet to believe that it is more lethal or will not be controlled by a vaccine. All six patients have recently returned from the UK, where cases have spiralled within days.
Three of the patients are in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, two in Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and one in National Institute of Virology, Pune.
All patients have been kept in "single room isolation" in designated healthcare facilities by the state governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been started for co-travellers, their families and others, the government said.
Around 33,000 passengers arrived from the UK between November 25 and December 23. Of them, 114 have tested positive for Covid. Genome sequencing for other specimens is on, the government has said. The states where these passengers arrived, meanwhile, is tracing them and their contacts for Covid RT-PCR tests.
The UK strain surfaces at a time the spread of the infection -- after hitting a peak in September -- has slowed down. Over the last 24 hours, the country logged 16,432 cases -- the lowest since June 24, when 15,968 cases were recorded. The overall coronavirus figure is now 1,02,24,303, the highest after the US.
"The situation is under careful watch and regular advice is being provided to the States for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing & dispatch of samples to INSACOG labs," read a government statement announcing the UK strain.
The government had released details of the genomic surveillance consortium INSACOG, which has been formed to detect the presence of different strains of coronavirus in India. Ten labs across the country will be carrying out genome sequencing.
Besides UK returnees, 5 per cent samples of people who tested positive in the country since November 23 will also be sent for genome sequencing. 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.
Regular monitoring will help in understanding the evolution of the virus, its effect on transmission of the disease and will also assist in developing potential vaccines in the future, the government said.
On December 21, India temporarily banned flights from the UK and soon extended it to the Vande Bharat flights. The bar was to stay in place till December 31. Mumbai, the city hit worst by coronavirus, announced a night curfew.
The day before, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced the emergence of the new strain.
"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," his tweet read.
The strain – described as out of control" by British health secretary Matt Hancock – was first detected in southeast England in September and quickly became the dominant strain in London and other parts of the UK.
So far, several nations including Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore have reported the detection of the UK strain.