India's government has asked all states to step up surveillance for any new variants of the coronavirus, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases in China and elsewhere.
India has reported the most COVID cases in the world after the United States but its tally of confirmed infections has fallen sharply in the past few months.
A recent surge of infections in neighbouring China after it ended its strict COVID restrictions has led to concern that new variants could emerge.
"In view of the sudden spurt of cases being witnessed in Japan, the United States of America, Republic of Korea, Brazil and China, it is essential to gear up the whole genome sequencing of positive case samples," Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a letter to states on Tuesday.
"Such an exercise will enable timely detection of newer variants, if any."
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Data from the World Health Organization shows that infections have inched up in Japan, Korea, the United States, France and Brazil in recent days.
The government has asked all states to ensure that samples of all positive cases are sent to the 54 designated genome sequencing laboratories.
Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya will meet senior officials on Wednesday to review the situation, his ministry said.
Mandaviya has also asked participants in a cross-country march organised by the opposition Congress party to ensure they are vaccinated and follow safety measures like wearing masks.
India is recording about 1,200 new infections a week. Globally some 3.5 million cases are being recorded every week.
The country of nearly 1.4 billion people has administered more than 2.2 billion COVID vaccine doses.