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20 test positive as passengers from UK come under scanner

20 test positive as passengers from UK come under scanner
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New Delhi: At least 20 passengers from the UK tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday as the government issued a stringent set of SOPs mandating RT-PCR tests at airports for each traveller from the country and isolation in a separate unit of an institutional facility for positive cases in view of the new Coronavirus strain.

Ahead of the December 23-31 suspension of flights to and from the UK that comes into effect at 11.59 pm on Tuesday as India joins about 40 others in sealing off the country, passengers were under close watch and hundreds were tested at various airports.

The process took many hours, resulting in scenes of chaos and confusion at several airports, including Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

Of the 20 that tested positive, six were on a flight that landed in Delhi at 11.30 pm on Monday, two on a flight that came into Kolkata on Sunday night, four that arrived in Ahmedabad on Tuesday and eight, including a crew member, in Amritsar who also reached on Tuesday. All were direct Air India flights from London.

According to the government's Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for passengers from the UK issued on Tuesday, those testing positive will be isolated in a separate unit of an institutional facility.

"Five passengers were found COVID-positive at the Delhi airport. One passenger who took a connecting flight to Chennai was tested there and found positive," an official in Delhi said.

A second flight from London landed in Delhi at 6 am on Tuesday and two more were scheduled for the night. All the passengers were being tested, said Dr Gauri Agarwal, founder of the Genestrings Diagnostic Centre handling Coronavirus testing at Delhi airport.

"The Delhi government is on alert in the wake of a mutated Coronavirus strain detected in the UK," said Delhi Health minister Satyendar Jain..

Other states were also on guard.

In Kolkata, a West Bengal Health and Family Welfare Department official said those sitting near the two passengers who were positive will be told to be in home isolation for two weeks.

The Air India flight from London arrived at around 10.30 am, said Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) Om Prakash Machra. The entire process of testing ended only in the evening with 275 passengers tested. Of the four who tested positive, one is a British national.

Punjab Minister for Medical Education and Research O P Soni said the eight who tested positive for the infection in Amritsar will be quarantined.

With passengers inside the terminal buildings for hours, anxious relatives waited outside for some news. Amrik Singh, whose son Sukhwinder arrived from the UK, was one of them.

In Mumbai, no COVID-19 symptomatic person was on board the three flights that came in on Tuesday with about 590 passengers on board.

Officials in Hyderabad said 358 passengers had arrived in Telangana from the UK over the last week and efforts were on to trace them. State authorities would be responsible for earmarking specific facilities isolation and treatment of positive patients.

Also, contacts of such travellers found COVID-19 positive at airport testing would be subjected to institutional quarantine and tested according to ICMR guidelines.

The strain has also been found in Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Italy. It is absolutely essential to stop the travel to spread this new strain in the world, said Deepak Sehgal, professor and head of department of Life Sciences, Shiv Nadar University.

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