With 81 percent of the latest 401 samples sent by the state for genome sequencing turning up positive for the new UK Covid variant, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to widen the vaccination ambit to cover those younger than 60 since this mutant has been found to be infecting young people more.
Expressing concern over the emerging situation, the CM stressed the need for the Central government to urgently open up the vaccination for a larger 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 – B117.
“It is essential to vaccinate more and more people to break the chain of transmission,” he added.
Singh also urged the people to strictly adhere to all COVID-safety protocols, including wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
The state government, which had earlier announced fresh restrictions, would be forced to impose more curbs if the people did not follow the precautions, he warned.
The appeal from the CM came after the state’s COVID experts’ committee head KK Talwar apprised him of the developments on the new variant in the state, which had led to a surge in cases over the last few weeks.
The state Health Department had sent 478 positive samples to the NIB, the IGIB and the NCDC for genome sequencing, of which results of 90 samples were received. These showed only two samples for the N440K variant.
Subsequently, a team from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of the Government of India 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 and March 10 were sent to the NCDC for genome sequencing. “The results of these samples were worrying as they showed the presence of the B117 variant in 326 samples,” Talwar said.
Singh said he had been informed by Talwar that though this UK variant B117 is more infectious, it was not more virulent. Further, the Oxford (Covishield) vaccine would be equally effective against this UK variant.
The B117 variant is now rapidly spreading in many parts of the world, representing 98 percent of the new cases in the UK and 90 percent of those in Spain. The UK authorities suggested it was up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original virus.