Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to widen the country’s immunisation drive and immediately begin vaccinating the younger population, the Hindustan Times reported. This came after 81% of the 401 samples sent by the state for genome sequencing tested positive for the new United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus.

The B.1.1.7 – an extremely virulent variant of the virus – was largely affecting younger people, Singh said, adding that authorities in Britain have found that the AstraZeneca vaccine was effective against it. “It is essential to vaccinate more and more people to break the chain of transmission,” he said.

Locally known as Covishield, the AstraZeneca vaccine, is one of the two vaccines that are being used in India’s vaccination programme. It is produced by the Serum Institute of India in Pune. The other one in the government’s arsenal is Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

After inoculating healthcare and other frontline workers in the first phase, India is now vaccinating its older population, with people above 60, and those who are 45 or more and suffering from certain medical conditions eligible for the vaccinations. Those who are above 45 will begin to be vaccinated from April 1. The country has so far administered 4,84,94,594 Covid-19 shots with 32,53,095 doses given on Monday.

Gripped by a second wave of infections, several states are seeking to accelerate the vaccination drive to include younger people. The appeal from Amarinder Singh came after the state’s Covid expert committee head, Dr KK Talwar, apprised him of the developments on the new variant in Punjab, which has witnessed a surge of infections during the last few weeks. The state recorded 1,90,399 cases and 6,382 deaths as of Tuesday, according to the data from the health ministry.

The state health department had sent 478 Covid positive samples for genome sequencing. The results for 90 samples were received in the first phase and out of these, two samples tested positive for the N440K, another novel variant of the coronavirus, according to the Hindustan Times.

Subsequently, a central government-appointed team of health ministry officials visited Punjab to review the situation. Thereafter, 401 more samples, collected between January 1 and March 10 were sent to the National Centre for Disease Control for genome sequencing. The result of these samples showed the presence of B.1.1.7 variant in 326 Covid samples.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in Britain in September 2020, and has since also been found in more than 100 other countries. On March 10, Reuters had reported that the variant is between 30% and 100% more deadly than previous dominant variants. In a study that compared death rates among people in Britain infected with the new variant against those infected with other variants of the virus, scientists said the new variant’s mortality rate was “significantly higher”.