New Delhi: The coronavirus mutation that has emerged in the UK hasn’t been detected in any of the virus samples tested in India so far, the central government said Tuesday, and added that the strain will not affect the Covid-19 vaccine candidates.
“We have studied thousands of virus [samples] systematically and till now we haven’t seen this mutation but… we are being watchful,” Niti Aayog member (Health) V.K. Paul said during the health ministry’s briefing on Covid-19.
“It had no impact on the potential of the emerging vaccine that is being developed in the country and those in other countries,” he added.
The ministry Monday convened an urgent meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group on the issue following which the Ministry of Civil Aviation said it was suspending flights to and from the UK from Tuesday midnight and until 31 December.
The government also issued guidelines for passengers arriving from the UK to be mandatorily tested using the RT-PCR method, the gold standard for screening for Covid-19.
Measures being taken
Dubbed as the VUI-202012/01 or lineage B.1.1.7, the virus was detected in the UK in late September. It was found in London and in an area of Kent.
“The virus samples that our laboratories have recently received are being prioritised for genetic sequencing since yesterday,” Paul said.
The labs conducting genomic sequencing have been set up under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR).
Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan added: “Given this new challenge posed by UK variant of the virus, these labs will be working with renewed vigour to establish genome sequencing out of the samples which have been picked up from the airports yesterday and today, as well as of the samples that will be picked up relating to the passengers who have arrived in the country in the recent past.”
According to reports, six passengers from the UK tested positive in Delhi, two in Kolkata and one in Chennai.
With regard to the treatment guidelines for Covid-19, the government said there will be no change because of the mutation.
The health ministry Tuesday also said states would be given the list of passengers who have arrived from the UK between 25 November and 23 December, compiled by the Bureau of Immigration. Surveillance authorities will then have to contact them and collect samples for testing.
‘No need for panic’
The mutation of the coronavirus has raised considerable concern as preliminary studies have shown it is 70 per cent more transmissible.
Paul, however, said there was no need to panic. “This mutation is not affecting the severity of disease as we understand today… the case fatality rate is [also] not affected by this mutation, hospitalisation is not affected by this mutation, the seriousness of this disease is not affected by this mutation,” he said, but added that the increased transmissibility “itself is a cause for concern”.
The government said it is also in touch with scientists in the UK.