COVID Variants of Concern, Novel Variant Found in India: Govt

India has been witnessing a surge in the number of coronavirus cases of lately.

3 min read
A new variant of coronavirus has been found.

The genome sequencing by the Indian SARS-Cov-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a grouping of 10 national laboratories, has shown that coronavirus variants of concern and a novel variant have been found in India, the Centre said on Wednesday, 24 March.

"Though variants of concern 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 analyse the situation [sic]," the government said in a statement.

Mutations in Maharashtra, Variant in Kerala

As many as 771 samples have been detected with variants of concern (VOC) from a total of 10,787 positive samples in India shared by states and Union territories, the Health Ministry said in the statement. Of these, 736 samples have been found with the UK variant, 34 samples with the South African variant and one with the Brazilian variant. "The samples with these VOCs have been identified in 18 states of the country," it added.

For Maharashtra, which has been leading the surge in cases, the analysis of samples revealed that 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 percent of samples and do not match any previously catalogued VOCs. These have been categorized as VOCs but require the same epidemiological and public health response of ‘increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases and contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol’ by the States/UTs.”
Health Ministry statement

Meanwhile, for Kerala, a state which was reporting high numbers till early February before witnessing a decline, the N440K variant, associated with immune escape, has been found in 123 samples from 11 districts, out of 2,032 samples from 14 districts, the government said. "The variant was earlier found in 33 percent of samples from Andhra Pradesh and in 54 of 104 samples from Telangana."

The statement comes as India has been reporting a rapid rise in the number of daily coronavirus cases, from the below 10,000-levels earlier this year to more than 40,000 now, with the state of Maharashtra leading the surge.

On Wednesday, the country reported 47,262 new coronavirus cases, taking the tally to 1,17,34,058. The death toll increased by 275 to 1,60,441. This is the highest one-day rise in cases since early November.

Could This Be Linked to the Rising Cases?

It’s too soon to tell.

“Though VOCs and a new double mutant variants 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,” the Ministry of Health said.

Speaking to FIT on the surge in cases in Maharashtra, Dr Swapneil Parikh, an internal medicine specialist in Mumbai and author of ‘The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Global Pandemic’, said, “We don’t have enough or good quality genomic surveillance testing. We have a bit of a blind spot in genomic sequencing, but I do think this is a variant related issue and we need to be very careful of what’s happening in Maharashtra and specifically in Nagpur right now,” says Dr Parikh.

Addressing a press briefing on Wednesday evening, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that two states showing a recent surge in cases are of “grave concern” – Maharashtra, that reported more than 28,000 cases in the last 24 hours and Punjab, that is reporting huge number of cases in proportion to its population.

(With inputs from FIT.)

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