No new variants of Covid-19 have been detected in Amravati, Yavatmal and Satara districts in Maharashtra, where currently there is a surge in cases, according to a the state health department. Samples from these districts tested at the BJ Medical College, Pune, have not revealed the presence of the UK or South African or Brazilian strains. The statement from the state health department came after the district collectors of Amravati and Yavatmal imposed strict curbs in these regions, including partial lockdown and curfew, to arrest the spread of the infection.
From Mumbai, meanwhile, as a precautionary measure, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has also sent 90 samples, categorised as mild, severe and asymptomatic. Reports are expected in the next 10-12 days.
A day after researchers found two new corona strains in the state, the health department had asked the three districts of Akola, Amravati and Yavatmal, to send samples to the National Institute of Virology & National Centre for Cell Science in Pune for genome sequencing. 275 samples from Akola, Amravati and Yavatmal were sent to the NIV for testing. However, no foreign strain of the virus was found.
Amid increasing cases in Pune and Satara districts, four samples each from Satara, Yavatmal and Amravati were tested at the B J Medical College laboratory in Pune. ‘‘No mutation similar to those found in new strains in the UK, South Africa or Brazil was observed. The same was the case for the 12 samples from Pune district,’’ the health department said.
According to Rajesh Karyekarte, head of the department of microbiology at the state-run B J Medical College, the new mutations were characterised by the virus’s ability to escape neutralising antibodies in the host body. Further, the state government’s technical adviser, Dr Subhash Salunkhe, asserted that a mutation found in Amravati seemed to be more infectious.
The spurt in infections is because of the large gatherings at weddings and other functions, where no physical distancing is being followed, noted Dr Murlidhar Tambe, Dean of B J Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital.
Meanwhile, the Wardha district collector has issued an order for the closure of schools and colleges, from Classes 5 to 12, in view of the rising number of cases.
Pune District Collector Rajesh Deshmukh revised the Covid-19 guidelines on Friday and has directed the imposition of a Rs 500 fine on mask violators. ‘‘ Instructions have been issued to both the municipal corporations (Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad) and the rural areas, to strictly implement the guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus spread. Restrictions will be imposed if these guidelines are not strictly followed,’’ he said. ‘‘Currently, there is a restriction on the gathering of people in the district. Therefore, citizens will not be able to crowd public places. However, no curfew has been imposed in the district,’’ he added.
A team appointed by the concerned department should conduct a special operation to check the use of masks and sanitisers at all hotels, restaurants, etc. In case of violation of rules at a place, the concerned department should take strict action.
It will be mandatory to obtain permission from the concerned police station before conducting any private or public event, which is likely to be crowded. Also, it will be binding on the organisers to follow Covid-19 instructions at the venue. In case of any violation, action will be taken through the concerned local police station.
Yavatmal and Amravati are among the districts that have shown considerable increase in new cases in the last one week. "We were asked by the state government to conduct genome sequencing of samples. The D614G strain which is prevalent was found in all the samples," said a senior health official.
But in Amravati, Yavatmal and Satara, they also came across different mutations. “In Amravati, we came across a mutation named E484K in all the four samples. When we inquired if all samples belonged to one family, we were told they were taken from different locations, so the conclusion was that it was a common mutation. Following which, we have sent more samples to NIV for genome sequencing," he said.
Dr Hari Pawar, District Health Officer (DHO), Yavatmal, said they had not found any new strain but as a precautionary measure, they had been asked to send the samples. The positivity rate in this district had increased to 47 per cent from the earlier 13-15 per cent. “We have sent 100 samples to the NIV Pune for genome sequencing. We can only comment further after getting the NIV report. So far, there’s no new strain in our district,” he said.
According to a state health department official, even though no foreign strain has been found in the samples tested, preliminary investigations have revealed a change in the composition of the virus. “How much the virus has changed in the virus and how this will affect people will be clear only after investigation is complete,” he said.
Dr Murlidhar Tambe, Dean of B J Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital, said these "small curves" (spurts in infections) are happening due to lax behavior by the public, as gatherings, weddings and various functions are taking place with laxity in observing physical distancing .
Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani said they were also taking necessary steps to curb cases across Mumbai. “We have sent 90 samples to check if there is a new variant in Mumbai that could be a super-spreader following which the positivity rate in these three districts has increased to 50 per cent. We have also directed all the BMC staff to intensify the testing and tracing,” he said.