The total number of people testing positive for the new UK variant genome of Sars-CoV-2 virus has reached 20, the Indian Union ministry of health and family welfare announced on Wednesday, based on the results of genome sequencing of positive samples released by the Indian Sars-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (Insacog) labs.
The samples have so far been sequenced in seven of the 10 designated labs across the country—seven samples tested positive in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, two in CCMB, Hyderabad and one in NIV, Pune, eight in NCDC, Delhi, one in IGIB, Delhi and one in NIBG, Kalyani (West Bengal).
The health ministry had announced Tuesday that six UK returnees had tested positive for the variant.
All the infected people are now in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement, adding that their fellow travellers and close contacts are being traced and quarantined. Genome sequencing on other samples is currently going on.
"All these persons have been kept in single room isolation at designated health care facilities by respective state governments and their close contacts have also been put under quarantine," the Union ministry said.
From November 25 to midnight of December 23, 2020 about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK.
All these passengers are being tracked and subjected by states to RT-PCR tests.
The designated 10 Insacog labs are: NIBMG Kolkata, ILS Bhubaneswar, NIV Pune, CCS Pune, CCMB Hyderabad, CDFD Hyderabad, InSTEM Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, IGIB Delhi, NCDC Delhi.
"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 health ministry statement said.
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.
First detected in London and Kent in mid-September, the variant was identified by UK authorities as a matter of concern on December 14. They later disclosed evidence that it appeared to be more transmissible, and was behind a spike in cases in the country's capital as well as its south-east.
The variant has 23 changes in its genome, eight of which appear to influence the spike protein that the pathogen uses to latch on to host cells. Some of the other changes could make it more adept at infecting susceptible cells and possibly even evade some immune response, although detailed studies are underway.
In a preliminary assessment released late on Monday, UK scientists estimated that the new variant did not lead to more deaths or hospitalisations but caused noticeably more secondary infections than the older variant.