With 81 per cent of the latest 401 samples sent by the Punjab government for genome sequencing turning up positive for the new UK Covid variant, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday appealed to the people of the state to get themselves vaccinated, even as he urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to widen the vaccination ambit to cover those younger than 60 since this mutant has been found to be infecting young people more.

Expressing concern over the emerging situation in Punjab, the CM stressed the need for the central government to urgently open up the vaccination for a bigger section of the populace. The process needs to be expedited, he said, pointing to the fact that experts had found the existing Covishield vaccine to be equally effective against the UK variant B.1.1.7. It was essential to vaccinate more and more people to break the chain of transmission, the CM added.

Capt Amarinder also urged the people to strictly adhere to all Covid safety protocols, including wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing. The state government, which has already announced fresh restrictions, would be forced to impose more curbs if the people do not adopt the Covid-appropriate behaviour, he warned.

The appeal from the CM came after the state’s Covid expert committee head, Dr KK Talwar, apprised him of the developments on the new UK coronavirus variant in the state, which has been witnessing a surge in the number of Covid-19 positive cases during the last few weeks.

The Punjab 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 variant.

Subsequently, a team from the Union ministry of health and family welfare, visited the state to review the increase in positivity. The team was informed about the pending results of genome sequencing.

Thereafter, 401 more samples, collected between 1 January to 10 March this year, were sent to the 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, said Dr Talwar.

The CM said he had been informed by Dr Talwar that though this UK variant B.1.1.7 is more infectious yet not more virulent. Further, the Oxford (Covishield) vaccine is equally effective against this new UK variant.

The B.1.1.7 variant is now spreading rapidly in many parts of the world, representing 98 per cent of the new cases in UK and 90% in Spain. The UK authorities have suggested it is up to 70% more transmissible than the original virus.