Karnataka Health Minister K Sudhakar on Monday said that 26 United Kingdom returnees have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state so far, PTI reported. The minister hinted at strict action against travelers who turn off their phones and become untraceable.
Health officials in several states are actively monitoring people who have arrived from the UK, amid fears over the new, faster-spreading strain of the coronavirus that has emerged in that country.
The Karnataka health minister urged UK returnees to cooperate with the state government and be responsible citizens. “You have to get tested,” he said. “If you don’t get tested and switch off your phone, then it’s a crime in true sense.”
Sudhakar was asked by reporters whether the government was considering police action against the people who flout safety protocols. “I am compelled to say that I will discuss with the Home Minister [Basavaraj Bommai] and decide the future course of action,” he said.
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa said earlier in the day that the people do not need to panic over the UK coronavirus strain, ANI reported. He added that the government would also hold discussions on reopening of schools in the state.
Several passengers from the UK have tested positive for the coronavirus in India. However, no case of the new strain has been reported in the country so far.
More than 50 countries, including India, have imposed travel restrictions on the UK, in an effort to prevent the spread of the new variant. India has suspended flights from the UK till December 31. Some, like France, have imposed total border closures amid widespread disruptions in trade and travel.
The new UK virus variant, which scientists have named “VUI – 202012/01”, includes a genetic mutation in the “spike” protein, which could result in coronavirus spreading more easily between people. It was first announced by Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, on December 14, and was subsequently confirmed by Public Health England and the UK’s Covid-19 sequencing consortium. Screening back through databases of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, the first sample was taken in the county of Kent on September 20.
The variant carries 14 defining mutations, including seven in the spike protein, which mediates entry of the virus into human cells. This is a relatively large number of changes compared to the many variants in circulation globally. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed that this was as much as 70% more transmissible than previous versions. But there is currently no evidence that the variant is more likely to cause severe coronavirus infections or that it would render vaccines less effective.
Last week, the World Health Organization had also tried to allay the concerns and said the virus mutation could be controlled using existing measures.