UK virus variant detected in Kerala samples

Six persons, who returned from the UK between December 9 and 23, found positive

Six samples from Kerala, of travellers who returned from the UK between December 9 and 23 to the State, have been confirmed as cases of the SARS-CoV-2 virus variant first reported in the UK, named B.1.1.7.

Two of these cases each, of persons belonging to the same family, have been reported from Kozhikode and Alappuzha. One case each was reported from Kottayam and Kannur, Health Minister K.K. Shylaja says.

All six persons are currently under strict isolation in hospitals in respective districts. All their contacts and household members are also under surveillance and the Health Department has given all necessary directions to districts.

There are no changes in the current treatment protocols, however, more vigil is needed to limit further disease transmission from these six persons as evidence emerges stronger that the new virus variant B.1.1.7 is 56% more transmissible than the previously circulating strain. There is no current evidence that this variant is associated with increased case fatality or increased severity of the disease.

The latest report from the Imperial College, London, says the new SARS-CoV-2 variant has a transmission advantage of 0.4 to 0.7 in reproduction number (R) compared to the previously observed strain and that it seems to be affecting a greater proportion of those under 20s. That would mean, on average, every person infected with B.1.1.7 infects an extra 0.36 to 0.68 persons compared to the earlier strain, the report says.

Ms. Shylaja says 39 samples out of the 1,609 travellers from the UK who reached Kerala between December 9 and 23 have been found to be positive for COVID-19, by RT-PCR test. Of the 29 samples that have been sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, for genomic analysis to check for the presence of the virus variant, 11 samples tested negative for the presence of the virus variant. More results are awaited from the NIV.

Ms. Shylaja says while there is no need to raise a panic, more prudence and caution is advised so that a local transmission from the new variant does not take roots here. While the Health Department has strengthened surveillance and contact tracing, she appealed to people to voluntarily report if they have had any recent travel history to the UK.

All non-pharmacological means of resistance against COVID-19, masking, physical distancing etc. are still the biggest protection that people can have against the new virus variant too, and hence there should not be any relaxations on that score.

Reverse quarantine needs to be strengthened, she adds.

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