It is possible that the new UK strain of coronavirus could have entered our country even before December, AIIMS director Randeep Guleria has said as he underlined that the mutant strain was first reported in Britain in September. Speaking to news agency ANI, Guleria said that the new Covid-19 strain is "more infectious" and is a matter of concern. According to him, it is 70 per cent more infectious than the existing disease.
"There is a possibility that this may happen because we must remember that this strain was first reported in the end of September and there were people who have an infection with this strain in UK," he said.
"It is difficult to say and will depend upon data. There are studies being done in our country by the SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), which are looking at the samples even from November onwards," he said.
India has so far reported 20 cases of the new Covid-19 strain. As a precautionary measure, the government on December 23 announced to suspend all flights coming from the UK. The suspension will remain in place till January 7.
Guleria said that number was not very high but "we had travel going on from UK even at that point of time".
"If you look at the data from Holland, they have said that there were persons who reported this strain even before it was reported by UK as a global warning in December. So, there is a possibility that this strain may have entered in India in November or early part of December," the AIIMS director said.
He explained that extra caution needs to be taken even though the new strain is not causing a significant effect on the number of cases and hospitalisation but owning to an increase in its transmissibility, a large number of people could get infected.
"If you look at it epidemiologically this strain leads to an increase in infectiveness that means a large number of people get infected. Now, if you look at our data for the last four to six weeks, there was no spike in the number of cases. We are consistently showing a downward trend. Therefore it is unlikely that this strain even if it had entered India is causing a significant effect on our cases and hospitalization," he said.
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.