In an attempt to check spread of a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus detected in the United Kingdom, the Delhi government on Tuesday said it would trace all passengers who have arrived here from the country.
“Starting today, the Delhi government will conduct door-to-door testing for all those who have arrived in the city from the UK over the past two weeks,” Health Minister Satyendar Jain told NDTV on being asked about the government’s preparedness to check its spread in Delhi, where active cases have dropped to below the 10,000-mark after weeks of record infections and deaths amid a third wave of COVID-19.
“Many passengers just land in Delhi and then go to other states, like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana; this number could be as high as 6,000-7,000. We will test those who are in the city,” he said.
We will advise passengers from UK to ensure they self-isolate for at least a week, Mr Jain added.
“We are happy that the central government has suspended flights from UK. We believe travel restrictions would help contain the situation,” he said as experts with the World Health Organisation pointed out that the new strain – first discovered in September and considered 70 per cent more infectious than the old one – may have already spread to many countries.
However, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Monday said the mutation – labelled B.1.1.7 – has not been detected in India as yet. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has also urged people to “not panic” as the government was “fully alert”.
Mr Jain said that only the ICMR – India’s top medical research body – can test the collected swab samples to check if the COVID-19 infection, if detected, is from the new strain or the old one. “This is a highly scientific job,” he added.
The Delhi government’s decision was taken hours after India joined a host of countries across the world in temporarily banning flights from UK where the new strain has promoted a 4-tier strict lockdown amid a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases, hospitalisation and deaths.
In view of this, Maharashtra, the only state other than Delhi where “air bubble” flights from UK land in India, also announced a 7-hour night curfew in all cities and revised testing and quarantine rules for passengers from UK and Middle East, which have a significant Indian diaspora.
The news of the COVID-19 virus mutation has fanned fears of increase in disease severity and vaccine efficacy.
However, experts have said that though the number of genetic changes in the mutation were “unusually large”, it was unlikely to trigger changes in the immune system and response to vaccines.
The new viral strain has hit global sentiments of a possible recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected more than a crore people in India and more than 6.78 crore globally since the outbreak in China’s Wuhan in December last year.
Delhi has recorded a total of 6.17 lakh infections so far with almost 10,000 deaths.