New Delhi: Amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, a new virus variant has been reported in the United Kingdom (UK), that has also been detected in countries like South Africa, Australia, Brazil and Denmark.
In view of this, the Indian government has also taken several measures to contain the spread of the virus. The centre has already suspended all flights from and to the UK from December 22 to December 31. They have also issued a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the air travellers coming from the United Kingdom as all the passengers coming from the UK will have to share their travel history for the last 14 days.
As per the recent reports, over 20 UK returnees have tested positive for COVID-19. Six of them were on a flight that landed in the national capital at 11.30 pm on Monday, two on a flight that came into Kolkata on Sunday night, four that arrived in Ahmedabad on Tuesday and eight, including a crew member, in Amritsar who reached on Tuesday.
Notably, all were direct Air India flights from the UK's capital London.
However, NITI Aayog's VK Paul on Tuesday confirmed that no new COVID-19 strain case has been found in India so far.
"To the best of our knowledge, we have yet to spot such a virus in our country, for which intensive efforts are in the offing," Paul said.
Paul added that the new virus strain would have no impact on vaccine development.
He stated, "As of our understanding today, it has no impact on the potential of the emerging vaccines that are being developed in our country."
Paul also said that the new strain of COVID-19 in the UK has increased transmissibility and this mutation is not affecting the severity of the disease and case fatality is not affected by this mutation.
The new strain of #COVID19 in the United Kingdom has increased transmissibility. This mutation is not affecting the severity of the disease. Case fatality is not affected by this mutation: Member @NITIAayog at #COVID media briefing pic.twitter.com/nE7ZRIrIC8
— PIB India (@PIB_India) December 22, 2020
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has released an SOP for dealing with passengers arriving from Europe, South Africa and the Middle-East.
They said, "All the officials and staff of the airport should be made aware that all passengers coming from the above areas should be considered to be harboring the new strain of the virus and should be handled in that manner."
Accordingly, all passengers coming from these countries shall undergo mandatory paid institutional quarantine of 14 days on arrival.
The circular added, "The airport/ airline staff should ensure that the passengers disembarking from the above-mentioned flights are wearing proper fitted mask, have sanitized the visible part of their hands thoroughly.
"It should be strictly ensured that at all times, the staff and passengers follow respiratory hygiene, hand hygiene and social distancing. In case anyone is not following the above instruction, strict action should be taken."
The Odisha government has also asked authorities concerned to undertake mandatory screening of persons with travel history to the UK.
Additional Chief Secretary P K Mohapatra in a letter ordered that passengers with travel history to the UK be advised to be in mandatory home quarantine for 14 days with self-monitoring and periodic monitoring by the Rapid Response Team.
"The standard operating procedure issued by the ministry of health and family welfare will be strictly followed," Mohapatra added.
He said, "Passengers with travel history to the UK and transiting through the airports in the UK within the last 14 days will be required to fill up self declaration forms upon arrival at the two airports of the state."
"If any such person is found symptomatic within the quarantine period, the RT-PCR test will be conducted. If he/she is tested positive, he/she will be isolated in an institutional isolation facility and advised for treatment as per protocol," the order stated.
"If the person is tested negative, he/she will be advised to complete the 14-days quarantine period," Mohapatra added.
The Delhi government also said that people who have arrived in the national capital from the UK recently are being traced and tested.
Health Minister Satyendar Jain said, "All passengers arriving from the UK are being tested for COVID-19 at the Delhi airport."
"The Delhi government is on alert in the wake of a mutated coronavirus strain detected in the UK. The situation is being closely monitored and mandatory tests are being conducted at the Delhi airport for all passengers arriving from that country," Jain said.
He stated, "We will go house-to-house and do a check-up of passengers to assess their condition and also advise them to isolate themselves for some time."
In Ahmedabad, the four, all Indian citizens, have been admitted to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Hospital, while the rest of the passengers and the crew will have to remain in home isolation for 15 days, District Development Officer, Ahmedabad, Arun Mahesh Babu told IANS.
"As per the guidelines, all the other 271 persons were instructed to remain in home isolation and the administration will be keeping a watch over them. After 15 days, they will be once again checked for corona. Today`s flight was the last flight arriving from the UK and from now on, there will no more be any flights," Babu added.
Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) sources said that the samples of all the four positive persons will be sent for genome sequencing to check if they have a new strain.
In Kolkata, a West Bengal Health and Family Welfare Department official said those sitting near the two passengers who have tested COVID-19 positive will be told to be under home isolation for 14 days.
In Punjab, Minister for Medical Education and Research OP Soni said the eight who tested positive for the infection in Amritsar will be quarantined.
As of Monday, the vast majority of cases identified in the UK are in London, the South East and the East of England. Besides the UK, the more infectious coronavirus strain has been found in countries like South Africa, Australia, Brazil and Denmark.
(With inputs from agencies)