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Variants of Covid-19 reveal continuing menace

Variants of Covid-19 reveal continuing menace
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Variants of Covid-19 reveal continuing menace

Highlights

If there are people who still don't accept that Covid-19 virus is back and back with a vengeance in the country, the research being conducted by our scientists should be an eye-opener.

If there are people who still don't accept that Covid-19 virus is back and back with a vengeance in the country, the research being conducted by our scientists should be an eye-opener. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) is a grouping of 10 National Laboratories that was established by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India on December 25 last.

INSACOG has since then carried out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating Covid-19 viruses, and correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants. Genomic variants of various viruses are a natural phenomenon and are found in almost all countries. Since INSACOG initiated its work, 771 variants of concerns (VOCs) have been detected in a total of 10787 positive samples shared by States/UTs. These include 736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage. Thirty four samples were found positive for viruses of the South African (B.1.351) lineage.

One sample was found positive for viruses of the Brazilian (P.1) lineage. The samples with these VOCs have been identified in 18 States of the country. Genome sequencing and analysis have been carried out on samples from arriving international travelers, contacts of those positive for VOC and community samples from most of the States at INSACOG partner laboratories which are 10 in number. The analysis of samples from Maharashtra has revealed that compared to December 2020, there has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations. Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity.

These mutations have been found in about 15-20 per cent of samples and do not match any previously catalogued VOCs. These have been categorised as VOCs but require the same epidemiological and public health response of "increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases & contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol" by the States/UTs.

From Kerala, 2032 samples (from all 14 districts) have been sequenced. The N440K variant that is associated with immune escape has been found in 123 samples from 11 districts. This variant was earlier found in 33 per cent of samples from Andhra Pradesh, and in 53 of 104 samples from Telangana. This variant has also been reported from 16 other countries including the UK, Denmark, Singapore, Japan and Australia. As of now these can be at best said to be variants under investigation.

Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States. Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyze the situation. India's total Active Caseload has reached 3,68,457 today, comprising 3.14 per cent of the total Positive Cases. India's cumulative recoveries stand at 1,12,05,160 as on March 23.

The national Recovery Rate is 95.49 per cent. But, the death rate is slowly climbing. Six States account for 83.27 per cent of the new deaths. Maharashtra saw the maximum casualties (132). Punjab follows with 53 daily deaths and Chhattisgarh reported 20 deaths by Tuesday. Do we understand the seriousness of all this? We cannot afford another long lockdown that melts away our economy and wipes out marginal lives. Get tested, tracked and treated.

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