Maharashtra on Monday found eight United Kingdom (UK) returnees, who had tested positive for coronavirus, to be infected by the new variant of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Of the eight patients, five are in Mumbai, while there is one each in Thane, Pune and Mira-Bhayander, state health minister Rajesh Tope said, adding that they are kept in isolation and there is no need to panic. The active caseload in the state went below 50,000 on Monday with 10,362 patients being discharged, taking the tally of recoveries to 1,847,361.

Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray held a meeting with officials on the health of the eight patients and directed them to remain “extra vigilant”. Thackeray is expected to request the Centre to make quarantine of passengers returning to India from the UK, Middle East and South Africa mandatory.

Senior government officials said they have found several cases where travellers come into Maharashtra through other states to skip compulsory quarantine for passengers coming in from UK where the new strain originated.

State health minister Rajesh Tope said that samples of those testing positive upon arrival from UK were sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, to ascertain the type of virus they were infected with.

“Between November 25 and December 21, over 4,000 passengers came to Mumbai airport from UK. They were kept in [an] institutional quarantine [facility] and were tested. Of them, 43 tested positive for coronavirus. To ascertain if positive cases are of the mutant strain, samples were sent to NIV [where] genomic sequencing was found. From the reports that came today, of the 43 patients, eight cases are of the mutated virus.

“Five of them are from Mumbai and one person each from Thane, Pune and Mira-Bhayander. The contact tracing and tracking is happening at an expedited speed. However, there is no need to panic. Certainly, the new mutated virus spreads faster. Therefore, we must take all precautions. Covid-appropriate behaviour must be followed,” Tope said. Meanwhile, the Mumbai civic body said it has traced 40 close contacts of the five patients, and all 40 have tested negative.The discovery of the mutant virus that is believed to be 70% more transmissible than the original strain has created a flutter among the administration and the government. The Covid-19 cases in the state are seeing a decline, with the emergence of the new strain that spreads faster, the CM has asked the municipal commissioners in Mumbai, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Pune to remain more vigilant in the wake of the new development.

The new variant of the virus has affected people from the areas — Mumbai, MMR and Pune — that have recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases. Health secretary, Dr Pradeep Vyas, said that eight patients are in isolation centre and their contacts are been thoroughly traced.

Thackeray, meanwhile, will ask the Union government to make institutional quarantine compulsory for passengers entering the country from UK to keep a check on people entering by road from states where there is no compulsory quarantine. “Although, the state is on a high alert due to the new strain in the UK, but considering the influx of abroad passengers arriving in Maharashtra from other states, the Centre must quarantine passengers at the airport they land,” Thackeray said in a statement from the CMO.

He added, “Over the past few days, it has been observed that passengers arrive in Maharashtra by landing at airports in other states. So, it becomes difficult to track them down.”

Thackeray on Monday also reviewed the preparedness for the vaccination drive. He directed officials to keep a plan ready for any side effects for people after the vaccination. He said that a task force should be set up to guide treating doctors. Thackeray directed officials to set up vaccination booths at health institutions only.

In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Coporation (BMC) is going to keep the jumbo facilities, which includes facilities at Mulund, Dahisar, BKC, NSCI Worli, Nesco Goregaon, as centres for vaccination, additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said. Besides, the jumbo facilities around 95 other centres will also be set up for vaccination. He told reporters that the civic body has planned to keep the entry exit points at these jumbo facilities separate to prevent Covid patients and people who come for vaccine to come in contact.

Kakani said, “The five people who tested positive for the new strain arrived in Mumbai in the past 45 days, and we traced their 40 close contacts. All 40 have tested negative.”

Kakani added, “Of the five, two have recovered, three are stable and are admitted in BMC’s hospitals. We have followed the existing protocols in tracing, tracking, testing and quarantining close contacts. We also sealed buildings of these five positive patients, following the existing protocols.”

“There will be 100 centres in the city including the jumbo facilities that will be partially converted. Initially, we will start with 10,000 vaccinations a day and will take it up to 50,000,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the state added 2,765 new cases on Monday, taking the tally to 19,47,011. Maharashtra also reported 29 deaths, pushing the death toll to 49,695. Mumbai reported 516 new cases and three deaths, taking the tally to 294,986 and death toll in the city to 11,138.

So far, the state has tested 1,30,04,876 samples, and has an overall positivity rate of 14,97% for Covid-19 until today [Saturday]. In the last 24 hours, 46,374 samples were tested.

Maharashtra also reported 29 deaths — the lowest single-day toll since May 3. Fresh fatalities pushed the toll to 49,695.

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