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Punjab health department starts tracing of 2,500 UK returnees over new coronavirus strain fears

The travellers, who arrived in the state in the last one month, will be kept under surveillance along with close contacts of 8 passengers who were tested positive on December 22
By Mandeep Kaur Narula {Edited by Narender S Thakur), Amritsar
UPDATED ON DEC 26, 2020 02:31 AM IST

Amid rising concerns over a new infectious strain of the coronavirus, the state health department on Friday started tracing nearly 2,500 travellers who returned from the United Kingdom in the last one month and are believed to be living in various districts of Punjab.

The move came after the Union health ministry directed the states and the union territories to track the locations and clinical status of the travellers from the UK who arrived in the country after November 25.

It will be ascertained as to which other state(s) they travelled after their arrival besides conducting genome sequencing of their samples. The state is planning to conduct mandatory RT-PCR tests of the travellers who did not undergo testing after their arrival, especially those who landed less than two weeks ago.

The new coronavirus strain, which accounts for one-third of the current cases in London, is believed to be 70% more infectious than the other known variants.

“As per the data, 1,822 travellers to Punjab from the UK in the last one month landed at the Delhi international airport. As many as 1,604 travellers to Punjab and elsewhere landed at the Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport, after November 25. Of a total of 3,426 returnees, nearly 2,500 are still believed to be in the state,” said Punjab Covid-19 nodal officer Dr Rajesh Bhaskar.

The tracing exercise will be over in the next two days, he added.

“All these returnees will be kept under surveillance by the health department. The symptomatic people will be tested for Covid-19. We will further trace their contacts who will also be tested for the virus,” he added.

“Till now, no traces of the new virus strain have been found in India but many UK travellers were tested positive after their arrival. Also, the department is closely monitoring the eight passengers aboard the Heathrow- Amritsar flight who were tested positive on December 22. On Friday, their samples were sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, for genome sequencing and research of the new virus variant,” Dr Bhaskar added.

The department has already listed 216 close contacts of these eight people and they are being shifted to institutional quarantine facilities in their respective districts. “The direct contacts of the eight persons include their family members and those sitting next to them in the flight. After five-day institutional quarantine, all of them will be tested,” said Dr Bhaskar.

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