India confirms UK variant in 6 recent returnees

India became the latest country to report the more contagious variant of Covid-19 first identified in the UK, confirming six cases in passengers who had travelled  from Britain.

Health officials on Tuesday said the six cases with the new variant were found in three southern Indian states: three in Karnataka, two in Telangana and one in Maharashtra.

“Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on,” the government said in a statement.

The outbreak of the new, more infectious variant prompted a wave of travel restrictions to and from the UK by several countries spanning the globe.

India joined 50 other countries on 23 December in suspending UK flights after the UK government announced that  it believed the new variant was up to 70 per cent more transmissible. India imposed travel restrictions on the UK till 31 December, while countries like France imposed total border closures, disrupting travel and trade.

About 33,000 passengers arrived in various parts of the country from 25 November to 23 December which were traced and tracked for detecting those with infection.

At least 114 people were found positive with coronavirus and the samples were further sent to labs for genome sequencing to detect the presence of the new variant.

India has joined the growing list of countries to report people infected with the new variant. They include Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.

India is the second worst-hit country with more than 10 million cases, though numbers of new infections have slowed. The Indian government claims there are currently about 268,000 active cases in the country.

India is expected to start a vaccination drive beginning with some 300 million people early next month, prioritising front line workers and those vulnerable to severe illness from infection.

In the UK, the emergence of the new variant has been partly held responsible for a sharp spike in infections since September, with hospitals warning they risk being overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

On Monday, the country recorded 41,385 new Covid cases and 357 deaths with health officials calling the “very high” rate of infection a “growing concern”.

The Office for National Statistics has said that as many as two thirds of those testing positive for coronavirus in the UK could have the new variant.

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