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Chennai: Sample of Covid-19 positive UK passenger sent for genome testing to Pune

One person tested positive for Covid-19 out of 24 passengers who returned from the UK to Tamil Nadu, said health secretary J Radhakrishnan.

The swab sample of a passenger who tested Covid-19 positive after arriving at the Chennai airport from the United Kingdom via Delhi was sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune for genomic testing on Tuesday. This will help identify if the passenger is infected with the new variant of the coronavirus disease strain detected in the UK which is said to be highly contagious.

The patient who was under quarantine was moved to the government-run King Institute of Preventive Medicine and Research, one of the designated hospitals for treatment of Covid-19. The passenger had arrived with a negative RT-PCR certificate. His case was identified among nine other people who were put through RT-PCR tests after arriving from the Delhi flight on Monday night.

“The other passengers have tested negative,” said Tamil Nadu health secretary J Radhakrishnan. “We are tracking 1,088 travellers from the UK who have entered the state in the past ten days.”

One person tested positive for Covid-19 out of 24 passengers who returned from the UK to Tamil Nadu, said health secretary J Radhakrishnan. 15 passengers were tested on Monday and another 9 were tested on Tuesday. “We have also identified another 15 people who were in close contact with the positive person as they travelled together by Air India 553 domestic flight,” Radhakrishnan said. “They could have been exposed as they sat in rows adjacent to this (infected) individual. They are already in-home quarantine but we are going to test them too.”

The health department is tracking the health of 1,088 passengers on priority who came from England in the last seven days and are likely to be tested in the next stage. As per government’s SOP, data of all international travellers who arrived after November 25 is being collected.

The Greater Chennai Corporation is working with the authorities of the Chennai airport to track passengers from England in the past one month. Chennai’s civic body has data of all flight passengers under its home quarantine and isolation monitoring system (HQIMS).

The strategy was developed in July so that people under 18 different categories, including those awaiting Covid-19 test results, discharged patients, international and domestic passengers coming via flights, trains, road or sea, family and extended contacts, are under HQIMS.

“We are gathering passenger details and our health teams will split ward-wise to monitor them,” said deputy commissioner of the corporation, Meghnathan Reddy. They plan to apply a saturation method of testing similar to what was done in IIT-Madras which became a Covid-19 hotspot last week and the entire campus of more than 1,000 people was tested. In this case, if a UK returnee is found positive, the entire street will be tested.

“The best solution to adequately protect from the new variant of the virus is to wear masks, observe social distance and follow hand hygiene,” says Dr Jacob John, former director of the ICMR’s Centre of Advanced Research in Virology.

“Since Tamil Nadu has crossed its peak, those who are not infected by the virus already are a minority so the new variant will not create a second wave and it is no more disease-causing than the previous variant.” When asked if the state may have missed out on passengers who returned from the UK in previous weeks, John said that it is adequate to follow protocols similar to the control of the spread of the parent virus by testing, tracing and isolating. “Even if it is the case that someone is infected with the new variant, we don’t have a clear action response yet so backtracking is a waste of time, effort and money. We have to re-enact what we followed in earlier months.”

“We will continue to confirm the presence of infection using RT-PCR testing and if we need to identify the variant we will send it for genome sequencing to NIV, Pune,” said Dr T S Sevlavinayagam, director of Tamil Nadu’s directorate of public health and preventive medicine. Those testing negative will be sent home for a 14-day quarantine and positive cases will be referred to hospitals.

“We have strengthened screening at all international airports in Tamil Nadu,” health minister C Vijayabhaskar told reporters in Pudukkottai district. “People need not panic.”