Covid: UK strain pushes India to map 5% of all positive cases

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on December 29, 2020

India, where six cases of the UK mutant strain of Covid-19 were discovered, will expand the scope of genomic analysis. It will genetically sequence one in every 20 (5 per cent) active Covid-19 positive cases to understand mutations occurring to the SARS-CoV2 virus, officials said.

“An important development is the establishment of INSACOG, which is a consortium of 10 government labs across the country to do genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 as well as any variant of that virus. These labs belong to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Department of Biotechnology and the Health Ministry,” said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan at a press conference here on Tuesday.

Though the emergence of the more contagious B1.1.7 strain in the UK forced the government to expand the scope of genomic analysis, some genetic sequencing studies have established that many variants of the SARS-CoV2 already exist in the country.

For example, a study by a team of CSIR researchers led by Vinod Scaria of the New Delhi-based Institute of Genomic and Integrative Biology discovered as many as 19 variants in the around 3,700 viral genomes they sequenced. Of these, one variant, S:N440K, was found to be present in one-third of 272 genomes mapped in Andhra Pradesh, according to Scaria.

So far, India has sequenced roughly 5,000 genomes, said Bhushan. However, this will now be stepped up to one in every 20 Covid-19 positive cases.

ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava, also present at the briefing, said the immune pressure due to a variety of reasons, including the use of unsubstantiated therapies, is forcing the virus to mutate. He called for judicious use of therapies for Covid-19 treatment.

K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the government, said there is no indication that the mutant strains so far have any impact on the vaccines currently developed.

UK strain in 3 States

Meanwhile, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana confirmed the presence of the UK variant in people who have travelled from Britain in recent days.

Karnataka’s Health minister K Sudhakar said the State government had started treating the three persons found with the new strain among the 26 of the 1,614 arrivals into the State from the UK who tested positive.

Telangana Health Minister Eatala Rajender said the only worry about the new strain is that it can spread faster.

In Andhra Pradesh, a woman who arrived in Rajahmundry from the UK 10 days ago has tested positive for the UK strain, AP Health Commissioner K Bhaskar said.

With inputs from Bengaluru and Hyderabad bureaus

Published on December 29, 2020

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