India on Tuesday reported the first six cases of the new coronavirus strain after six people who had returned from the United Kingdom were tested positive for the new UK variant genome. According to the details, the new coronavirus strain cases were reported from Hyderabad, Pune and Bangalore. Samples of 3 UK returnees were tested and found positive for the new UK strain in NIMHANS, Bengaluru. The other two cases were tested at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad; while the last case was tested at the National Institute of Virology, Pune.
All the six people have been kept in single room isolation, the Health Ministry has said.
Nearly 33,000 passengers had disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK between November 25 to December 23. All these passengers were being tracked and were subjected by states/UTs to RT-PCR tests.
“Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on. The situation is under careful watch and regular advice is being provided to the states for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing and dispatch of samples to INSACOG labs,” the ministry said.
It is important to note that the presence of the new UK Variant has already been reported by Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore, so far, the ministry said.
The new strain was first detected in the UK in September. In November, around a quarter of cases in London were the new variant. This reached nearly two-thirds of the cases in mid-December.
“The new strain of the virus is known to have 13 mutations in the spike protein of which the N501Y mutation is responsible for it spreading 70 per cent faster than earlier versions of the virus,” said Deepak Sehgal, professor and head of the Department of Life Sciences, Shiv Nadar University.
Scientists have also said the faster-spreading coronavirus strain first detected in the UK is unlikely to make vaccines less effective as of now but the preventives may need to be appropriately altered if more mutations occur over time.
Meanwhile, India has suspended all passenger flights connecting to the UK from Wednesday till December 31 in the wake of the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus there, joining several other countries that have imposed a similar flight ban.
According to the Union Health Ministry, the variant strain has 14 non-synonymous (amino acid altering) mutations, 6 synonymous (non-amino-acid altering), and three deletions. Eight mutations are present in the Spike (S) gene which carries the binding site (Receptor Binding Domain) of the ACE2 receptors, which are the point of entry of the virus into the human respiratory cells.