14 more infected with new strain, flights to remain suspended

NEW DELHI, Dec 30: Fourteen more people were found infected with the UK strain of the Coronavirus today in the country, with West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh reporting such cases for the first time, taking the total tally to 20 in two days.
A cautious Government extended the temporary suspension of passenger flights between the UK and India for a week till January 7 and said the services would resume in a “strictly regulated” manner thereafter.
According to local authorities, a number of UK returnees in States like Maharashtra, Odisha, Karnataka and Punjab remained untraceable and efforts were on to contact them.
The Centre had last week directed that about 33,000 passengers who had arrived in India from November 25 to December 23 midnight, will be tracked and subjected to RT-PCR tests along with their contacts by States and Union Territories, and the positive samples will be sent for genome sequencing.
To detect cases of the new strain, the Government has now directed genome sequencing of samples from all passengers who arrived in India from December 9 to 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 or were symptomatic as it ramped up the surveillance and containment strategy.
Experts have maintained that so far it has not been found that the new strain increases the severity of the disease, though it is considerably more transmissible.
At least six cases of the new strain were reported on Monday. Among the new cases, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh reported one and two respectively among the UK returnees, according to state authorities.
The Union Health Ministry said the mutated UK strain has so far been detected in eight samples at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in Delhi.
Official sources said among the eight people was the woman who left Delhi and travelled to Andhra Pradesh last week by train. The remaining seven are in quarantine at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) in the national capital.
The Ministry said that one case each was detected at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) in Delhi, the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kalyani (near Kolkata), and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune and seven were at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences Hospital (NIMHANS) Bengaluru.
Two cases have been detected at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, it said.
Uttar Pradesh Additional Chief Secretary Health Amit Mohan Prasad said that the two cases were found in Meerut and Gautam Buddh Nagar and samples of their contacts were also being taken. (PTI)
Tests of those returning from the United Kingdom after December 9 are continuing and till now around 2,500 samples have been sent to the labs, he said, adding that so far 10 people have tested positive.
Indian authorities have stressed the need to remain vigilant, noting that though the cases have been declining in the country, they are on the rise globally and the new strain detected in the UK had spread to several countries.
Aviation regulator DGCA announced that the coronavirus-induced suspension of scheduled international passenger flights has been extended till January 31.
“However, international scheduled flights may be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on a case-to-case basis,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation added.
Scheduled international passenger services have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But special international flights have been operating under the Vande Bharat Mission since May and under bilateral “air bubble” arrangements with selected countries since July.
India has formed air bubble pacts with 24 countries including the US, the UK, the UAE, Kenya, Bhutan and France. Under an air bubble pact between two countries, special international flights can be operated by their airlines between their territories. (PTI)