New variant of SARS-CoV-2 more transmissible and affecting younger population: Health Ministry

Separate isolation unit for international passengers testing positive for new variant of the coronavirus

The new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, reported in the U.K., is estimated by the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) to be more transmissible and affecting a younger population, said the Union Health Ministry on Tuesday, while releasing its SOP (standard operating procedure) for epidemiological surveillance and response to the new variant.

“This variant is defined by a set of 17 changes or mutations, and changes in this part of the spike protein may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people,” said the Ministry.

In its latest SOP, the Ministry has said that if the genomic sequencing of a COVID-19 positive patient from the U.K. indicates the presence of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2, then the patient will remain in a separate isolation unit while necessary treatment as per the existing protocol will be given.

International travellers from the U.K. who arrived in India from November 25 to December 8, 2020 (the first and second week starting November 25) will be contacted by District Surveillance Officers and advised to self-monitor their health. If anyone amongst them develops symptoms, they will be take the RT-PCR test and standard follow-up action would be initiated.

It added that if any passenger is not traceable initially or during any duration while being followed up, it should be immediately notified to the Central Surveillance Unit of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) by the District Surveillance Officer.

“This SOP describes the activities to be undertaken at the point of entry and in the community for all international passengers who have travelled from or transited through the U.K. in the past four weeks (from November 25 to December 23, 2020),” said a senior health official.

He added that all passengers coming from the U.K. during the intervening period from December 21 to 23 shall be subjected to RT-PCR test on arrival, and in case of a positive sample, it is recommended that the spike gene-based RT-PCR test should also be performed by an appropriate laboratory.

The SOP explains that passengers testing positive shall be isolated in an institutional isolation facility in a separate (isolation) unit coordinated by the respective State Health Authorities. They would earmark specific facilities for such isolation and treatment.

“Necessary action to send the samples to National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune or any other appropriate lab for genomic sequencing will be initiated at the facility level. If the report of the sequencing is consistent with the current SARS-CoV-2 virus genome circulating in the country the ongoing treatment protocol including home isolation/treatment at facility level as per case severity may be followed,” notes the SOP.

However, if the genomic sequencing indicates the presence of new variant of SARS-CoV-2, then the patient will continue to remain in a separate isolation unit while necessary treatment as per the existing protocol will be given, the patient shall be tested on the 14th day, after having tested positive in the initial test. In case the sample is found positive on the 14th day, a further sample may be taken until the person’s two consecutive samples taken 24 hours apart have tested negative, it added.

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