6 in India test positive for new coronavirus strain

6 UK returnees test positive for new coronavirus strain in India; Centre creates panel to pick up vaccine recipients

114 of around 33,000 arrivals from the UK have tested positive for Covid-19, of which 6 are positive for the new strain

People, not adhering to social distancing norms, visit Juhu Chowpatty amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Mumbai. Credit: PTI Photo

India on Tuesday reported its first six cases of the new fast-spreading Covid-19 variants in people who returned from the UK recently, as the process of tracking and testing thousands of such returnees gains pace all over the country.

While those who have been tested positive with the new strain would have to stay at government isolation facilities for the next 28 days, efforts are on to track down nearly 33,000 individuals who came back from the UK between November 25 and December 23 so that they and their contacts can be screened for the new strain, which according to the WHO is 40%-70% more transmissible than the circulating strains.

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"A total of 6 samples of 6 UK returnee persons have been found to be positive with the new UK variant genome. Three samples were tested positive at NIMHANS, Bengaluru, two in CCMB, Hyderabad, and one in NIV, Pune,” the Union Health Ministry said in a statement.

“All these individuals have been kept in single room isolation in designated health care facilities by the state governments and their close contacts have been put under quarantine.”

K Vijayraghavan, Principle Scientific Advisor to the government assured that vaccines would work against the new strain allaying fears harboured by many.

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“All vaccines target multiple regions of the virus, most of which were not impacted by these 17 mutations. The changes in the variants are not sufficient to make the vaccines ineffective,” he said.

A network of 10 laboratories has been set up to carry out the genetic sequencing of not only those who returned from the UK but also 5% of other RT-PCR positive samples to find out what are other types of mutations that the strains circulating in India underwent.

“In the last 11 months, there were more than 5000 sequencings, which did not reveal any virus drift or shift,” said Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

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Meanwhile, the Centre has formed an expert panel to decide the criteria for selecting the 27 crore potential recipients of the Covid-19 vaccine after 1 crore doctors and 2 crore front line workers receive their vaccinations.

The 12-member panel comprising specialist doctors of kidney, lungs, heart diseases, and cancer would finalise the parameters based on which the recipients would be chosen.

While age and comorbidity are the determining factors, the experts would also take into account the severity of a disease. For instance, mild hypertension being experienced by nearly 30% of Indians would not be counted as a comorbidity factor, but severe hypertension would be.

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"In the next few days, the expert panel is likely to submit its report, based on which the national task force on vaccination would take a decision,” said NITI Ayog member Vinod Paul, who heads the task force.