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NEW DELHI: Six passengers who returned from the UK have tested positive for the new strain of novel coronavirus found in the country, the health ministry said in a statement.

"All these persons have been kept in single room isolation in designated health care facilities by respective state governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on," the ministry said.

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The six passengers were among the 114 passengers who returned from the UK between 25 November and 23 December, who tested positive for covid-19. Their samples were sent to 10 laboratories across the country for genetic sequencing.

About 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from UK between 25 November and 23 December.

The government has already banned flights to and from UK from 23 December to Thursday over the new coronavirus strain.

As per government protocol, all UK returnee air passengers since 25 November have to undergo mandatory RT-PCR test. The samples of all UK returnees found positive in RT-PCR test will be genome sequenced by a consortium of 10 government labs.

Over the last few weeks, there was a rapid rise in covid cases in southeast England, leading to epidemiological and virological investigations.

Analysis of the genetic material of the virus in a large proportion of the people in this region showed multiple mutations in the spike protein, through which the virus attaches itself to human cells, as well as those in other genomic regions.

The spike protein mutations allow the virus to attach more easily with the human cells, and increases its transmission between humans by up to 70%.

However, government and World Health Organization officials have said there is no need to panic as it has not found to have an impact on the severity of the disease or mortality. Also, there is no indication that it would reduce the efficacy of vaccines.

The spread of the new UK variant has already been reported by Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.

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