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Preparations on 'war-footing' for genome tests, says official amid COVID-19 upsurge in five states

After the evolution of the UK and Brazilian strains of coronavirus which are found to be more transmissible, the Indian government stepped up sequencing of the genomes.

February 23, 2021 / 08:56 PM IST
India has set up 10 surveillance sites or labs for genome tests (File image)

India has set up 10 surveillance sites or labs for genome tests (File image)

With an upsurge in COVID-19 cases in five states, including the sharp spikes in Kerala and Maharashtra, preparations are underway to increase genome testing on "war-footing", an official was reported as saying on February 23.

The target is to conduct genomic sequencing of 5 percent of all the positive samples on a daily basis, said Dr Shekhar Mande, Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

"Five per cent is the target that we wish to achieve (for genome sequencing). Right now, preparations are on war-footing to get that five per cent going," NDTV quoted him as saying.

Dr NK Arora, head of the operations research group of Indian Council of Medical Research's (ICMR), told the news channel that increasing the pace of genome sequencing is essential to ascertain whether any rapidly transmissible mutant of coronavirus is arising within the country.

India has set up 10 surveillance sites or labs for genome tests. The country has completed the sequencing of around 0.06 per cent of the cases recorded since the outbreak of COVID-19.

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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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"India has so far not been sequencing SARSCoV-2 isolates to full capacity, having deposited only about 6,400 genomes of the over 10.4 million recorded cases," news agency PTI quoted Rakesh Mishra, Director of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), as saying.

There are more than 7,000 coronavirus mutations in India of which some could pose a serious risk, he added.

A team of the CCMB scientists, including Mishra, noted in their recently published research paper that "increasing sequencing efforts following local spikes will go a long way in staying on top of mutations."

After the evolution of the UK and Brazilian strains of coronavirus which are found to be more transmissible, the Indian government stepped up sequencing of the genomes.

The Maharashtra government, on February 19, announced that it had not found the foreign virus strains linked to the UK, South Africa and Brazil in the samples collected for lab tests from Amravati, Yavatmal and Satara - the three districts which were among the firsts to witness the resurgence of coronavirus in the state.

The findings raised speculation on whether locally mutated strains are responsible for the surge in infections in the state. Between February 8 and 21, Maharashtra added 54,597 new cases, and the state's positivity rate grew to an alarming 7.7 percent as compared to a 4.7 percent between January 26 and February 8.

The four other states where the Centre has flagged an upsurge in cases include Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab. Of them, the worst-affected is Kerala which accounts for nearly 59,000 of the country's 1.5 lakh-active caseload.

With PTI inputs
Moneycontrol News

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