India on December 22 suspended all flights to and from the United Kingdom over the new rapid-spreading strain of coronavirus detected in parts of England. Senior government health officials reportedly termed the curbs as "only a precautionary measure" with experts noting that India has only seen "minor mutations in the virus which is not of much consequence."
Dr Samiran Panda, head, epidemiology and communicable diseases, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) told The Hindustan Times, that India has so far not reported anything related to the UK strain. "Be it in our laboratory in the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune or any other laboratories across the country doing genome sequencing, there is no evidence of this mutation in our samples," he told the publication.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week said a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England in recent weeks. But he stressed "there's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness," or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
“We are constantly vigilant, and it is not like the strain has mutated in the UK and suddenly we will start looking for this mutation. If there is a mutation it will show up in the surveillance but so far there is nothing of consequence,” Dr Panda added.
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Director General Shekhar Mande said that the coronavirus vaccines will be equally effective against the new mutant of the virus and there is no reason to panic. "We have not found this (particular mutation) in Indian isolates yet... Scientists are looking at the mutations very closely. It is too early to draw any conclusions," Mande told PTI.
The mutation has been independently observed in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, he said.
He said the new variant can be diagnosed with the RT-PCR but it needs to be assessed if it can be equally effective for the Rapid Antigen tests. "But there is nothing to suggest it (RAT) does not work right now," he said.
Several European countries — France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy — have banned flights from the UK with the British government warning that the potent new strain of the virus was "out of control" and imposing a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown from Sunday.