Watch out for new COVID-19 strain, warns Niti Aayog’s Paul

Priority genome sequencing for those landing from the UK amid heightened surveillance

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 22 December 2020
COVID-19: No case of UK strain found in India so far, says government. Photo: @TomPodolec / Twitter
Passengers who are landing in India from the UK from December 21-23, will have to mandatorily undergo an RT-PCR test, Niti Aayog member VK Paul said December 22. Photo: @TomPodolec / Twitter Passengers who are landing in India from the UK from December 21-23, will have to mandatorily undergo an RT-PCR test, Niti Aayog member VK Paul said December 22. Photo: @TomPodolec / Twitter

The new mutant strain of the novel coronavirus — ‘First Variant Under Investigation in December 2020 (VUI – 202012/01)’ — has not been found in India yet; but the country needs to watch out. The warning came December 22 from VK Paul. The Niti Aayog member (Health), cited the examples of how the strain has spread fast in many countries, including Australia and Denmark.

The Union government, meanwhile, made RT-PCR tests to detect COVID-19 compulsory for those coming in from the United Kingdom on December 21-23.

Those testing positive shall be retested with a kit that targets the spike gene, according to a central advisory to states and Union territories. 

The new strain spotted in the UK has undergone mutation in the spike portion of the virus. Spikes are proteins protruding from the virus. They actually bind the virus with the cells of the body and then gain an entry.

The genomic sequence of the virus samples of those who test positive after arriving from the UK will be prioritised, Paul added. The genomic sequence will help reveal if the virus type was the mutant strain or not. 

Genome sequencing is done by specific labs associated with the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Department of Biotechnology, National Centre for Disease Control and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

If the report of the sequencing is consistent with the current SARS-CoV-2 virus genome circulating already in India, the ongoing treatment protocol, including home isolation / treatment at facility level, will be followed.

If the sequence confirms the new variant, the patient will be shifted to a separate isolation unit and necessary treatment will be provided. As of now, no new treatment protocol has been announced and the existing one is supposed to continue.

All the contacts of people who test positive, will be subjected to institutional quarantine. The contacts of the suspect case are the co-passengers seated in the same row, three rows in front and three rows behind along with identified cabin crew.

The advisory issued by the Centre to the states also said the Bureau of Immigration would provide a list to states of those people who have landed in their respective territories in the past four weeks. 

They will have to be tracked by state and district health surveillance officers. They will be advised to self-monitor their health.

If they showed any symptoms, they would be asked to undergo an RT-PCR test for COVID-19. If they were found positive, genomic sequencing would be done.

“As of now, our understanding is it will not impact the vaccine development process that is already underway,” Paul said.

The European Centres for Disease Control (ECDC) said December 21 that studies on the properties of the new strain were on. It will take three weeks to arrive at a result as to whether the new strain can impact the ongoing vaccine development or not.

The risk assessment issued by the ECDC said people who are being vaccinated currently, should be monitored for vaccine failure and whether it was related to VUI – 202012/01.

Paul was asked if such an exercise would be done in India. “In any case, India, like other countries does surveillance of people who have received vaccines to monitor for adverse events. If the need arises to do monitoring for the new variant, we would do it,” he said.

The health official reiterated that transmissibility of the new strain was 70 per cent more but there was no evidence so far to suggest that the disease caused by it would be more severe. 

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