West Bengal is Covid hotspot, says expert

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on April 28, 2021

Almost all variants are present in the State, says top virologist

West Bengal is the State that virologists should be looking to if they want to know where this pandemic is going as all major variants of concern are present in the State, said a top virologist. Bengal recently witnessed a cut-throat campaign for its eight-phase Assembly elections .

“West Bengal, which is a scene of action in more sense than one, has pretty much all the variants of concern around. It has UK variant, Indian variant, South African variant, and Brazilian variant. As a virologist I really believe that West Bengal is something to look to because I think with the type of crowds assembling there, the future of the pandemic doesn’t look to be a happy one,” said Shahid Jameel, a noted virologist and Director of Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University.

Rise in cases

Significantly, the State, which reported 16,403 new cases on Tuesday, is currently reporting the highest growth rate in Covid-19. A presentation made by Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Monday showed that cases in the State are growing at a rate of 9.5 per cent.

Jameel, while talking at a webinar on Tuesday, said the outbreak in India is fairly heterogenious. “If you look at Punjab, if you look at Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir and if you look at parts of Delhi, the UK variant – B1.1.7 – is dominating.

In Maharashtra, on the other hand, the Indian variant (B1.6.7) initially came up in small numbers, but subsequently grew to roughly 35-40 per cent of all viral variants reported. In some Maharashtra districts, this is as much as 60 per cent, according to some studies, said Jameel.

He said it is a misnomer to call the Indian variant as double or triple mutant, as it has 15 different mutations, except that there are two key mutations in the receptor binding region that allow the virus to become more infectious and also possibly evade some antibody response. “The third mutation (thus called triple mutant) that everybody was talking about is actually present there in another region of the spike protein, and this allows the virus enter (human) cells more effectively,”said Jameel. This mutant right now is present in 16 States in the country, he said.

Test results

He said Covid deaths are not reported correctly in India, but he was of the view that the underreporting was not part of any design. More often than not, test results nowadays are coming much late, sometimes after the patient has passed away, said Jameel, citing a case in his own extended family.

However, he was pretty sure that all deaths are not reported as Covid-19 deaths. “Normal death rate in India is 7.3 per one thousand population. And this translates into roughly 28,000 deaths a day. What we see from reported numbers is anywhere between 2,300 to 2,800 deaths per day. That is barely 10 per cent of the normal death rate in the country. If that be the case, then you would not have cremation grounds and burial grounds overwhelmed,” he said.

Published on April 28, 2021

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