COVID-19 outbreak: Authorities race to trace, isolate UK returnees; new coronavirus strain found in Nigeria

As per the Centre's SOPs issued on Tuesday, passengers coming from the UK should undergo RT-PCR test and be isolated in a separate unit of an institutional facility if found positive

FP Staff December 25, 2020 00:01:03 IST
COVID-19 outbreak: Authorities race to trace, isolate UK returnees; new coronavirus strain found in Nigeria

A health worker collects sample for COVID-19 test at a KSRTC bus stand in Bengaluru. PTI

Health authorities in Africa on Thursday said that yet another mutation of the novel coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria.

This, as India continued racing to trace and isolate passengers who recently returned from the United Kingdom, where a variant of the novel coronavirus has been spreading.

Media reports said that flyers from the UK, including some who were found COVID-19 positive, had gone untraceable and officials in Uttar Pradesh saying that they were finding the phones of UK returnees switched off.

A woman who returned from UK and was found positive in Delhi was traced to Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya barred the entry of UK returnees in the state.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka government revoked its order for imposing night curfew in the state while Punjab lifted night curfew for Christmas.

UK returnee traced to Andhra Pradesh

A coronavirus positive woman, who allegedly gave the slip to authorities at a quarantine facility in Delhi, was picked up from Rajamahendravaram in Andhra Pradesh and admitted to a hospital along with her son, reported news agency PTI quoting health officials. However, the woman told authorities in Andhra Pradesh that only home quarantine was recommended for her and she left New Delhi on her own because she was asymptomatic, sources told the news agency.

Deputy Chief Minister (Health) AKK Srinivas told reporters that the 47-year-old woman tested positive for COVID-19 but was asymptomatic. Her 22-year-old son, who had gone to pick her up in Delhi, tested negative for the virus, he said.

Both have been admitted to a hospital and kept in isolated rooms. Preliminary tests on the woman did not reveal the new COVID-19 strain and they were awaiting results from the NIV.

As the woman and her son travelled by first AC coach in a train, they had little contact with other passengers, as per the news agency.

Reacting to reports of two COVID-positive flyers from the UK slipping out from the Indira Gandhi International airport, Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain said that the city government would talk to the airport authorities.

Eleven UK returnees found COVID positive in Goa

The tally of UK returnees found COVID-19 positive continued to go up. Eleven people who came to Goa from the UK have tested positive for COVID-19 , said health minister Vishwajit Rane while seven such cases were also detected in Telangana and have been hospitalised. One person who recently arrived from the UK also tested positive in Maharashtra's Nagpur.

"We don't know whether it is the old mutant or new mutant (of the virus). He has mild symptoms and as a precautionary measure, he has been kept at a different ward in the Government Medical College and Hospital here," Nagpur Municipal Commissioner  Radhakrishnan B told PTI.

Official sources told PTI that five people with recent travel history to the UK have been detected in Meghalaya so far, and health workers are currently attending to them. The entry of individuals from the UK into the state has been barred and the government has urged people who have recently returned from Britain or transited through the country to stay in isolation and inform it about their travel history.

Rane also said that RT-PCR testing of 979 passengers, who came to Goa from the UK after 9 December, is currently going on.  In Punjab, civil surgeon Dr Ravinder Singh Sethi said that as many as 216 passengers, who could have come in contact with eight (including a crew member) found positive on a Air India flight from London to Amritsar on 22 December will be sent to institutional quarantine.

The samples of those who tested positive have been sent to advanced labs for further testing to determine if they have contracted the new virus strain from UK.

Tamil Nadu health secretary J Radhakrishnan said the UK returnee who had tested COVID-19 positive in Chennai was receiving treatment and added that he was stable and doing well. Asked about the genomic analysis result of the sample sent to the Pune-based NIV, he said institute authorities have indicated that it may be expected on 28 December and Tamil Nadu has requested it to expedite the availability of result.

As per the Centre's SOPs issued on Tuesday, passengers coming from the UK should undergo RT-PCR test and be isolated in a separate unit of an institutional facility if found positive. India has suspended all passenger flights connecting the United Kingdom till 31 December or till further orders.

In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Lucknow, Sanjay Bhatnagar, on Thursday the list of passengers received from the Centre mentions phone numbers of about four dozen passengers who arrived from the UK since 24 November.  "But the list does not have their addresses. Phone calls to most of the mobile numbers are either not being received or are switched off," the official said.

Maharashtra amends SOPs 

Amended its Standard Operating Protocol, the Maharashtra government on Thursday said that passengers arriving from Europe, South Africa and West Asia will not be subjected to RT-PCR test for coronavirus immediately upon arrival.

A circular said the test will be conducted at the hotel where the passenger is quarantined between 5th and 7th day and added that the cost of test will be borne by the passenger. If the report is negative passenger will be discharged from institutional quarantine but he or she will have to stay in isolation at home for a further seven days.

If the result is positive but the patient is still asymptomatic, he or she will stay in institutional quarantine at the same hotel or at COVID-19 hospital for 14 days, the circular stated.

Karnataka withdraws night curfew

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa in a statement, said: "In view of the public opinion that there was no need for night curfew, the decision was reviewed and after consulting with Cabinet colleagues and senior officials it has been decided to withdraw the night curfew."

The order was rescinded just a day after the night curfew was announced. Yediyurappa had initially announced on Wednesday that the night curfew will be imposed from 23 December till 2 January between 10 pm and 6 am. Changes in night curfew dates and timing were announced later with Yediyurappa tweeting that it will be from 24 December till 1 January 2021, between 11 pm to 5 am (2 January, 5am).

The decision to impose night curfew had drawn flak from the ruling as well as the Opposition parties.

The chief minister on Thursday appealed to people to exercise self-restraint by wearing facemasks, hand hygiene and social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus .

The Punjab government followed suit in announcing relaxations in the night curfew. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said night curfew in the state will be lifted on Thursday for Christmas. Restrictions will also be removed in Fatehgarh Sahib from 25 to 27  Decemberfor Shahid Sabha, he said.

New virus appears to emerge in Nigeria

Meanwhile, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong told reporters that another mutation of the virus seems to have emerged it Africa but added that added that further investigation was needed. “It’s a separate lineage from the UK and South Africa,” the official said.

The variant in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, was found in two patient samples collected on 3 August and on 9 October in Osun state, reported The Associated Press citing a working research paper.

Unlike the variant seen in the UK “we haven’t observed such rapid rise of the lineage in Nigeria and do not have evidence to indicate that the P681H variant is contributing to increased transmission of the virus in Nigeria. However, the relative difference in scale of genomic surveillance in Nigeria vs. the UK may imply a reduced power to detect such changes," the paper stated.

Nkengasong said on Thursday that the new virus variant in South Africa is now the predominant one there, as confirmed infections in the country approached one million. South Africa on Wednesday recorded its highest daily spike in infections, with more than 14,000 new confirmed cases and more than 400 deaths.

'New virus variants less likely to change efficacy of vaccines'

Back in India, the head of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Dr Rakesh Mishra met Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu in Hyderabad to brief him about the new strains of SARS-Cov-2 found in the UK and South Africa.

Mishra apprised the vice-president that the mutations in the new strains are less likely to change the efficacy of the vaccines under development. Besides, there is no evidence that suggests the strains are associated with worse outcomes for the patients, although they are more infective, he said, as per an official statement. The same disease management strategies are expected to work for the variants too, the statement said.

States prepare for vaccine rollout

The senior scientist's remarks came as states are gearing up for vaccine storage and rollout. A list of people who should be inoculated on priority in Tamil Nadu is ready and 21,000 personnel were being trained and 46,000 centres identified in the state for the rollout of the immunisation exercise after the vaccine is made available, PTI quoted the state's health secretary as saying.

The comprehensive list, including about five lakh health workers, all other frontline personnel like those from municipal administration, revenue and police, the elderly and those with co-morbidities is ready, said Radhakrishnan, adding that requisite infrastructure to handle the immunisation drive like cold chain facilities was also ready.

"Vaccines are expected in January. The approval for vaccines should come from the Centre," he said.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal also said the state government is fully prepared to receive, store and administer COVID-19 vaccine to 51 lakh priority category persons in the city in the first phase of vaccination.

"There are a total of 51 lakh priority category persons in Delhi — three lakh health workers, six lakh frontline workers, and 42 lakh of those aged above 50 and those below 50 but having co-morbidities," the chief minister said at a virtual press briefing. Each person will be given two doses, and a total of 1.02 crore doses will be required in the first phase of vaccination in Delhi, he said.

Kejriwal asserted that his government is all set to start the vaccination drive as soon as it gets the vaccine from the Centre, and registration is underway for people in the three priority categories.

Zydus Cadila seeks nod for phase-3 trials

In another development on the vaccine front, Drug firm Zydus Cadila on Thursday claimed its vaccine against COVID-19 , 'ZyCoV-D', has been found to be safe, well-tolerated and immunogenic in the Phase I/II clinical trials, and the company is seeking regulatory approval to commence Phase-III trials.

"The company is now planning to initiate Phase III clinical trials in around 30,000 volunteers upon receiving necessary approvals," Zydus Cadila said in a statement.

The Phase-II study ofZyCoV-D was conducted in over 1,000 healthy adult volunteers.

India's COVID-19 caseload on Thursday rose to 1,01,23,778 with 24,712 new infections being reported in a day, while the recoveries surged to 96.93 lakh, according to the Union Health Ministry. The toll increased to 1,46,756 with 312 new fatalities, the data updated at 8 am showed.

The number of people who have recuperated from the disease surged to 96,93,173 pushing the national recovery rate to 95.75 percent, while the COVID-19 case fatality rate stands at 1.45 percent.

The COVID-19 active caseload remained below 3 lakh for the third consecutive day. There are 2,83,849 active coronavirus infections in the country which comprises2.80 percent of the total caseload, the data showed.

"A net decline of 5,391 cases from the total active caseload was registered in the last 24 hours," the ministry said. Daily recoveries have outnumbered the daily new cases after nearly a month (27 days), it added.

Maharashtra has reported the highest number of 7,620 single-day recoveries, followed by 4,808 in Kerala and 2,153 in West Bengal in a span of 24 hours.

The ministry said 76.48 percent of the new cases are from 10 states and UTs. Kerala reported the highest number of 6,169 daily new cases, followed by Maharashtra and West Bengal with 3,913 and 1,628 infections respectively.

Ten states and UTs account for 79.81 percent of the new deaths. Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties (93). West Bengal and Kerala reported 34 and 22 new deaths respectively.

With inputs from agencies

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