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India steps up Covid tests at Delhi airport to cut risk of new foreign strains

India steps up Covid tests at Delhi airport to cut risk of new foreign strains

Testing of international passengers for Covid-19 at Delhi airport has been stepped up to minimise the risk of new strains of coronavirus entering the country.

Officials said that while earlier 50 to 70 passengers were being tested every day at Indira Gandhi International Airport, the number has now been increased 10-fold to 7,000.

The number has gone up following the Union Health Ministry announcing more stringent guidelines to detect new COVID-19 variants and made it mandatory for passengers from the UK, Europe, Brazil, South Africa and the Middle East to be tested on arrival.

While the lab infrastructure is equipped to even test above 15,000 samples per day, the operations team comprising data entry operators and sample collection technicians had to be increased 10 fold to handle the large inflow, an executive involved with the testing said.

Vaccines can be tweaked

Meanwhile, Indian pharmaceutical companies Bharat Biotech and Biological E. Ltd said on Monday they could quickly rework their COVID-19 vaccine products to fight new variants once their genetic sequence is known.

In recent months, India has confirmed the presence of the variants first identified in Brazil, Britain and South Africa, which are believed to explain an upsurge in cases in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Kerala.

“As we are seeing a lot of resurgence of cases, we are picking up samples from hotspots and clusters and we are trying to sequence them,” Nivedita Gupta, deputy director-general of the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), told the BioAsia conference.

Bharat Biotech Chairman Krishna Ella said his company would mainly need data from the ICMR or the World Health Organization on the genetic sequence of any variant to quickly make an effective vaccine.

Ella said a vaccine to tackle the South African variant could be made in 15 days and would not require any change to the manufacturing process.

Biological E. Managing Director Mahima Datla said there was no need to be “overly concerned” about the mutations.

Eventually we don’t know which variant of the virus, which mutants will take over, but we think that it’s prudent to work on technologies that address the new variants as well,” she said.

Biological E., which is developing a vaccine with Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine and Dynavax Technologies, recently completed Phase 1/2 clinical trial in India, Datla said.

“Once you know the variant, when it’s sequenced, it is fairly quick to deploy into a vaccine,” said Datla, whose company will also contract-manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

Covid-19 case count in India

India has reported 14,199 fresh cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours out of which 11,041 or 79% were from Maharashtra and Kerala. Maharashtra has shown the highest increase of 86% as there has been a surge in Covid-19 cases in the state which includes the densely populated Mumbai and Pune industrial regions.

Other states which are also giving some cause for concern, although the number of cases are not as alarming, are Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh.

India’s share of global active coronavirus cases now stands at 0.68 per cent (one in 147). The country is 14th among the most affected countries by active cases. With 83 new fatalities on Monday, its Covid-19 death toll in the pandemic reached 156,385, or 1.42 per cent of total infections.

With 31,681 more vaccinations across India on Sunday, the total count of those inoculated reached 11,116,854.