New variant of COVID-19 detected in India: Health Ministry
Photo Credit: PTI

Amid fear of a second wave of the COVID-19 crisis in the country, the Union Health Ministry on Wednesday said that the genome sequencing by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) shows the entry of a novel variant in India. INSACOG said that the novel ‘double mutation variant’ of the SARS-CoV-2 was found in 18 states of the country.

The Union Health Ministry in its press release said: "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 analyse the situation."

"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," Union Health Ministry said.

The government said that 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 on December 25, 2020. INSACOG since then has been carrying 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.

Genome tests were done on samples from arriving international travellers, contacts of those positive for the new strains and community samples from most of the states where the 10 national labs are there. "Genome sequencing and analysis have been carried out on samples from arriving international travellers, contacts of those positive for VOC and community samples from most of the States at INSACOG partner laboratories which are 10 in number," the Union Health Ministry said.

"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% 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 & contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol' by the States/UTs," it added.

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% 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 variant under investigation.

"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 a relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States. Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyze the situation," the ministry said.

India on Wednesday recorded 47,262 fresh coronavirus cases in a day, taking the nationwide COVID-19 tally to 1,17,34,058. The active caseload registered an increased for the 14th day in row and was recorded at 3,68,457, comprising 3.14 per cent of the total infections, while the recovery rate further dropped to 95.49 per cent, the ministry data updated at 8 am said.

The daily rise in infections was the highest recorded in 132 days, while the country's COVID-19 death toll increased to 1,60,441, with 275 new fatalities, the highest in around 83 days.

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