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Six cases of the more contagious variant of Covid-19 first identified in the UK have been confirmed in India.
The six individuals who returned from the UK are being kept in isolation, officials said on Tuesday.
India joined a list of other countries last week in suspending flights to and from the UK.
The new variant is considerably more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily any more dangerous, experts say.
With more than 10 million confirmed cases so far, India has the second-highest caseload in the world after the US.
The new strain can “cause havoc” and “throw our healthcare system out of control,” Dr A Fathahudeen, a critical care expert who has treated hundreds of Covid-19 patients, told the BBC earlier.
Officials in India have begun contact-tracing close contacts and family members of the six who have tested positive for the new variant.
Passengers arriving from the UK will undergo RT-PCR tests at all airports in the country, an official statement said. The samples found to be positive will then be genome sequenced by government-run labs in order to detect the new variant.
Around 33,000 passengers arrived in India from the UK over the past month. Of those, 114 were found to be positive for coronavirus – their samples have been sent to ten labs for genome sequencing, according to the statement.
News of the new variant triggered travel restrictions around the world last week. Several countries such as Canada, Japan, Spain, Sweden and France have all confirmed the presence of the new strain.
In the UK, health officials have warned that the country’s “very high” Covid infection level is a “growing concern”. On Monday, a record 41,385 Covid cases and 357 deaths were reported in the UK.
What is the new variant?
The new, more contagious variant of Covid, first identified in the UK, has now been confirmed in more than 20 countries and territories around the world.
While that is concerning, it’s not surprising. The first case can be traced back to late September in the south of England, meaning there was ample time for it to spread undetected around the UK and into other countries. Now that the alarm has been raised, scientists around the globe are actively searching for and tracking this variant that is thought to pass more easily between people.
And the more you seek, the more you can potentially find. More than 50 countries have imposed travel restrictions on Britain in recent days to help prevent more spread. But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned against punishing nations that transparently share such information, saying “only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope”.
Viruses continually mutate and future new versions of Covid will occur. Science will need to keep up.