The number of people who have tested positive for the new UK variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the country has climbed to 71, the Union Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

These 71 cases include the 58 which were announced by the ministry till Tuesday.

"The total number of cases infected with the new strain of the novel coronavirus first reported in the UK now stands at 71," the ministry said.

All these persons have been kept in single room isolation in designated Health Care facilities by respective state governments, the ministry had said on Tuesday.

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.

The situation is under careful watch and regular advice is being provided to the states for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing and dispatch of samples to INSACOG labs.

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

The Government of India took cognizance of the reports of the virus reported from the UK and put in place a proactive and preventive strategy to detect and contain the mutant variant, it said.

This strategy includes temporary suspension of all flights coming from the UK with effect from the midnight of December 23 till January 7 and mandatory testing of all UK-returned air passengers through 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 i.e. INSACOG.

All the international passengers who have arrived in India between December 9 and 22, if symptomatic and tested positive for COVID-19 will be subjected to genome sequencing as part of the Centre's strategy to detect the mutated UK variant in them.

Others will be followed up by the respective state and district surveillance officers and will be tested as per ICMR guidelines (even if asymptomatic) between 5th and 10th day, according to the Union Health Ministry's guidance document on genomic sequencing.

Epidemiological surveillance of the passengers, who have arrived in India since November 23 will be conducted in the community through active follow up.

Besides, standard operating protocol for states and UTs to tackle the mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 was issued on December 22. - PTI