The Centre on Tuesday allayed fears about a mutated variant of coronavirus detected in the United Kingdom, saying that no similar strain has been seen in India yet, reported PTI. NITI Aayog member (Health) VK Paul said that the new strain has no impact on the potential of emerging vaccines.

“As of now, based on our discussions, deep understanding of data available and our deep assessment, there is no need to panic but it is a cause to be more vigilant,” Paul said at a press conference. “This new challenge we have to counter with our comprehensive efforts. We will be safe if we suppress the genomic sequence.”

Paul added that there is no change in treatment guidelines and the vaccines that are being developed. He pointed out that though the mutated strain might be more infectious, it has no impact on the fatality rate so far. “It is also being said that in these viruses, the transmissibility has increased by 70%, you can also call them super spreader in a way but it does not increase the propensity of death, hospitalisation and severity of the disease,” the NITI Aayog member said. “What is affected is tendency to affect more people that by itself is a cause of concern. It is an adverse development.”

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a revised standard operating procedure for people coming to India from the United Kingdom, which includes a mandatory RT-PCR or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction tests on arrival, and separate isolation for those who test positive for the new variant of the coronavirus. The ministry said that passengers are required to declare their travel history of the last 14 days and fill up the self-declaration form.

The health ministry added that the existing treatment protocol can be followed for people who test positive for the older strain of the coronavirus. In case a person is infected with the mutant strain, they will be kept in a separate isolation unit. “While necessary treatment as per the existing protocol will be given, the patient shall be tested on 14th day, after having tested positive in the initial test,” the document said.

It added: “In case the sample is found positive on 14th day, further sample may be taken until his two consecutive samples taken 24 hours apart are tested negative.” The government said that people who test negative for the coronavirus at the airport should remain in home quarantine.

India has suspended flights from the UK till December 31 amid concerns that the new coronavirus strain, which emerged in that country, appeared to spread more easily. The ban will come into effect from Tuesday midnight.

The mutated strain

UK’s public health officials said the new variant, which has been identified and is known as VUI, was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent. By December, it had become the “dominant variant” in London. Nearly a third of England’s population entered a lockdown, days before Christmas, as authorities warned that the new strain of the virus was going “out of control”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had on Saturday said the new strain “may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant” although there was no evidence it was more deadly or led to a more severe illness.

The World Health Organization also on Monday tried to allay the concerns and said the strain could be controlled using existing measures.

India’s declining cases

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said there has been a sustained decline in coronavirus cases in the country since mid-September.

“India has reported 124 Covid-19 cases per million population in the last seven days as against the global figure of 588,” he added. “India has reported two Covid-19 deaths per million population in the last seven days as against the global figure of 10 deaths.”

India’s coronavirus tally on Tuesday morning rose to 1,00,75,116 after 19,556 new cases emerged in 24 hours. This is the lowest daily rise in infections since early July. The country’s toll went up by 301 to 1,46,111.

Bhushan pointed out that 26 states and Union Territories have less than 10,000 active cases of Covid-19. Overall, India’s active cases are below 3 lakh.