New Delhi, Dec 29 : After six returnees from the UK were found to be carrying the new coronavirus variant, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will now look at the seriousness of the disease caused by the mutation, its behaviour and immunology, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
A total of six UK returnees were found to be positive with the new variant genome, the Central government announced on Tuesday, adding that all these persons have been kept in a single room isolation in designated health care facilities.
Addressing a press conference, Dr V.K. Paul, Member (Health), Niti Aayog said: “ICMR has decided to look at the aspect of seriousness of the disease in such patients. Till now, it does not affect the seriousness but is more transmissible. We will go beyond genome sequencing to know about its behaviour and immunology. We will take more comprehensive scientific steps.”
The British government had recently announced that the newly identified strain of the virus found in their population is up to 70 per cent more transmissible. This had prompted Indian authorities to suspend flights to and from the UK till December 31.
The presence of the new UK variant has already been reported by Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon, and Singapore.
“The major population is still susceptible to Covid-19 infection in this cold weather. UK variant has travelled to several other countries and also to India, this variant may have its own run and we have to be very careful. One cannot be careless,” he added.
Few days back, the Indian government had taken cognizance of the reports of mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus reported from UK and put in place a pro-active and preventive strategy to detect and contain the mutant variant. It included temporary suspension of all flights coming from UK with effect from the midnight of December 23 till December 31.
Testing of all UK returnee air passengers through RT-PCR test was made mandatory. The samples of all UK returnees found positive in RT-PCR test had undergone genome sequenced by a consortium of ten govenment labs.
Over the last few weeks, the UK has faced a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in southeast England, leading to enhanced epidemiological and virological investigations. Analysis of viral genome sequence data identified that a large proportion of cases belonged to a new single phylogenetic cluster.
The new variant is defined by multiple spike protein mutations as well as mutations in the other genomic regions. Preliminary analysis in the UK suggests that this variant is significantly more transmissible than previously circulating variants, with an estimated potential to increase the reproductive number (R) by 0.4 or greater with an estimated increased transmissibility of up to 70 per cent.
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