Indian health authorities say they found six people who had returned from Britain in recent weeks positive for the new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus that has prompted a wave of panic and border closures around the world.
All six patients have been kept in isolation, India’s health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. “Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine,” the statement said.
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With more than 10 million cases, India is the second-worst affected by the virus after the United States. Nearly 150,000 people died in the world’s second-most population nation. On Tuesday 16,432 new cases of the virus were registered, a sharp drop from nearly hundred thousand cases a day back in September.
India has suspended all flights from Britain until the end of the month but about 33,000 passengers had flown in from late November, before the ban came into place, the ministry said.
Of those arrivals, 114 people were found positive for the coronavirus and their samples were being checked for the new variant, which has been detected across parts of Europe and Asia, the ministry said.
Health authorities expect to start a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month.
India is likely to approve the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University for emergency use after its local manufacturer submitted additional data sought by authorities, the Reuters news agency reported citing two sources with knowledge of the matter.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford shot is considered vital for lower-income countries and people living in warmer climates because it is cheaper, easier to transport and can be stored for long periods at normal fridge temperatures.
India’s Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) first reviewed the three applications on December 9 and sought more information from all the companies, including from Serum Institute of India (SII), which is making the AstraZeneca shots.
India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, wants to start inoculating its citizens next month and is also considering emergency-use authorisation applications for vaccines made by Pfizer and local company Bharat Biotech.
Getting vaccines to the world’s second-most populous country with one of the world’s highest infection rates will also be a big step forward in the battle against the pandemic.