81 pc of 401 Punjab samples show UK variant, Amarinder asks PM to widen vaccine ambit

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Chandigarh, Mar 23 (PTI) Eighty-one per cent of the 401 samples sent by the government for genome sequencing have tested positive for the UK variant of COVID-19, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said on Tuesday, asking the Centre to widen the vaccination net to cover those younger than 60.

Expressing concern over the COVID-19 situation, the chief minister also appealed to people to get themselves vaccinated and stressed the need for the Union government to urgently open up vaccination for a larger section of the population.

He urged 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, an official statement quoting him said.

“The process needs to be expedited,' he said, pointing to the fact that experts had found the 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 said.

The state government, which has already announced fresh restrictions, would be forced to impose more curbs if people don't follow COVID appropriate behaviour, Amarinder Singh warned.

The appeal from the chief minister came after head of the state's COVID expert committee Dr K K Talwar apprised him of developments on the new variant in the state, which has been witnessing a surge in the number of cases in the last few weeks.

A large number of people from Punjab live in the United Kingdom.

The chief minister had been informed by Talwar that though the UK variant B.1.1.7 is more infectious it is not more virulent.

“The state health department had sent 478 COVID positive samples to NIB (National Institute of Biologicals), IGIB (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi), and NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) for genome sequencing, of which results of 90 samples were received and those showed only two samples for N440K (a coronavirus variant).

“Subsequently, a team from the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, visited the state to review the increase in positivity,” the statement said.

The team was also informed about the pending results of genome sequencing, it added.

“Thereafter, 401 more samples, collected between 1.1.2021 and 10.3.2021, 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,” the statement said quoting Talwar.

Punjab Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said the samples that tested positive for the UK variant were taken from a cross section of population.

“This means, this strain has spread in a bigger measure, which is a serious concern for us as transmission rate of this strain is quite high,” Sidhu told PTI.

The worrying thing is that many youth are also contracting the virus, he said.

Touching upon the overall COVID spread in the state, he said urban areas were more affected. However, the death rate is more in the rural belt, the minister said.

Many people, especially the youth, don't follow COVID-related protocols and they are being urged not to be complacent, he said.

When asked how serious is the UK strain, Dr K K Talwar told PTI, “It is infectious and the transmission rate of the infection is quite high as compared to the original virus. There is not much difference in variants but the UK strain spreads more quickly and younger people also get affected”.

Talwar said the Punjab government has already imposed several restrictions to control the coronavirus spread.

On Monday, Punjab reported 2,319 fresh COVID-19 cases, taking the tally to 2,15,409, and 58 fatalities, pushing the death toll to 6,382. PTI SUN VSD MIN RDK RDK