Eighty-one per cent of the latest 401 samples sent by Punjab for genome sequencing have been tested positive for the new UK Covid-19 variant. Alarmed, the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Tuesday urged the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to widen the vaccination ambit to cover those younger than 60 as “the mutant has been found to be infecting young people more”.
At the same time, the Chief Minister has also appealed to the people to get themselves vaccinated and strictly adhere to the Covid safety protocols.
Expressing concern over the emerging situation, the Chief Minister stressed the need for the Central Government to urgently open up the vaccination for a bigger section of the populace. “The process needs to be expedited,” he said, pointing to the fact that experts had found the existing Covishield vaccine to be equally effective against the UK variant - B.1.1.7.
“It is essential to vaccinate more and more people to break the chain of transmission,” he added.
The CM also urged the people to strictly adhere to all Covid safety protocols, including wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing. The State Government, which has already announced fresh restrictions, would be forced to impose more curbs if the people do not follow the Covid appropriate behaviour, he warned.
The appeal from the Chief Minister came after the State’s Covid expert committee head, Dr KK Talwar, apprised him of the developments on the new variant in the State, which has been witnessing a surge in the number of Covid-19 positive cases during the last few weeks.
The State Health Department had sent a total of 478 Covid positive samples to National Institute of Biologicals (NIB), Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for genome sequencing, of which results of 90 samples were received and those showed only two samples for N440K variant.
Subsequently, a team from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare visited the State to review the increase in positivity. The team was informed about the pending results of genome sequencing. Thereafter, 401 more samples, collected between January 1, 2021, and March 10, 2021, were sent to NCDC for genome sequencing.
The result of these samples was worrying as it showed presence of B.1.1.7 variant in 326 Covid samples, Dr Talwar said.
The Chief Minister said he had been informed by Dr Talwar that though this UK variant B.1.1.7 is more infectious yet not more virulent. Further, the Oxford (Covishield) vaccine is equally effective against this new UK variant.
It is noteworthy that the B.1.1.7 variant is now spreading rapidly in many parts of the world, representing 98 per cent of the new cases in UK and 90 per cent in Spain. UK authorities have suggested it is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original virus.