India on Wednesday reported 14 more cases of the mutant strain of the coronavirus, taking the infection tally from the new variant in the country to 20. The new strain, which is 70% more transmissible was first discovered in the United Kingdom.
All the patients infected with the new strain are from the UK. The results were based on genome sequencing of positive samples released by the Indian Sars-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium labs.
So far, eight samples tested positive in the National Centre for Disease Control and one in the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi, seven in the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences and two in Hyderabad’s Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology. One case each was reported from the National Institute of Virology in Pune and the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics in West Bengal’s Kalyani.
The government has said that it was tracing the 33,000 passengers who have returned from the UK.
On Tuesday, India registered its first six cases of the new mutant strain of the coronavirus. The health ministry said three cases were reported from Bengaluru, two from Hyderabad and one from Pune.
So far, the new variant of the infection has been reported in Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.
The new variant
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 and is likely to extend it. 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.