Samples of eight of 14 UK returnees, who arrived in Delhi between December 21 and 22, have tested positive for the new strain of the coronavirus detected in that country, official sources said on Wednesday. The samples were tested at National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in Delhi, they said.
Among these eight UK returnees was a woman who left the Delhi airport and travelled to Andhra Pradesh by train last week, they said.
The rest seven are isolated in a special ward at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (LNJP) Hospital here, the sources said.
Asked if these seven people belonged to Delhi, Nutan Mundeja, the head of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said, "They might not be. Since they disembarked in Delhi, they are being kept at health facilities here."
The seven at the LNJP Hospital, whose genome sequencing report showed infection of the new strain, had arrived at the IGI airport from the UK between December 21 and 22, before flights from and to Britain were suspended, the sources said.
All the 14 samples of UK returnees were sent to the NCDC, Delhi, for tests to identify the virus strain, they said.
A total of 33 people, including UK returnees and their contacts, are admitted to a special facility at the LNJP. Their condition is stable, the sources said.
Their samples were sent for genome sequencing to ascertain whether they were carrying the new UK strain, they said.
The new strain is more contagious but does not appear to be virulent. Special care is being taken, the sources said.
Of the 33 people, 11 were tested through RT-PCR tests at the IGI airport on their arrival from the UK. Nine other UK returnees were found positive in the Delhi government's district-level door-to-door contact and testing drive, they said.
The district-level teams contact those who have returned from the UK after November 25 and test them for the virus. Extensive contact tracing is also underway to identify and test those persons who came in their contact and have developed any symptoms, officials said.
Out of over 13,000 passengers who landed at the IGI airport, around 1,400 have been identified as residents of Delhi. The list of passengers provided by the Bureau of Civil Aviation is being sorted and all Delhi residents who returned from the UK are being contacted, they said.
Suresh Kumar, medical director at the LNJP, said these 33 people are being kept in separate rooms in a special ward.
The World Health Organisation has said that the mutant strain of the virus, with a 70 per cent higher rate of transmission, may already be present in several countries, although it was "unlikely that a couple of mutations" could affect the immune system's response to an existing vaccine.
The presence of the new UK variant has already been reported by Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore so far.
India has suspended all flights coming from the UK from the midnight of December 23 till January 7.
It has also made testing mandatory for all UK returnee air passengers through RT-PCR test.