Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday said the government was on alert on the new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the UK but said there was no need to panic.
“The Central Government is alert and scientists are closely keeping an eye on each development about the discovery of the new strain of coronavirus,” Dr. Vardhan said, speaking to the news agency ANI.
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The Health Ministry’s Joint Monitoring Group has directed that all passengers from U.K. should be subjected to mandatory RT-PCR tests on arrival at the airport concerned and that State/UT governments should set up help desks at the airports to facilitate this.
Following a meeting to discuss the emergence of the new COVID strain, Health secretary Rajesh Bhushan in a letter to secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation Pradeep Singh Kharola, said a distinct phylogenetic cluster of SARs-CoV-2 has been detected which is spreading and growing rapidly in the U.K.
Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India
“It has also been reported that this variant has an unusually large number of genetic changes particularly in the spike protein. This development calls for enhanced containment and other measures to effectively tackle the challenge,” the official said.
On vaccination, Dr Vardhan said, “In any week of January, we can be in a position to give first COVID vaccine shot to the people of India.”
“Our first priority has been safety and effectiveness of vaccines. We don't want to compromise on that,” he added.
“The government has done everything that was important to handle the COVID-19 situation in the last one year,’’ Dr Vrdhan said.
Dr. Vardhan also said currently India has around three lakh active COVID cases and its recovery rate is 95- 96%, which is significantly higher than many developed countries. “But we need to strictly follow COVID-appropriate behaviour and cannot afford to relax on that front,” he added.
The Minister added that India’s fatality rate is also significantly low at 1.45% now. “The major tool against COVID-19 will ultimately be masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing that we all need to follow. The troubles that we had to face as a country due to COVID-19 are on the decline. In the coming year, the research of the scientists in the direction of developing a vaccine will also be successful,” he added.
India reported 333 fatalities in the past 24 hours with 10 States/UTs accounting for 81.38% of the new deaths. Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties (98), West Bengal and Kerala followed with 40 and 30 deaths, respectively.
“Kerala reported the highest daily new cases at 5,711, followed by Maharashtra with 3,811 new cases, while West Bengal recorded 1,978 new cases,” data released by the Ministry said.