Covid-19: Double mutant strain, 771 variants detected in India, says govt

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A double mutation found in the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in Maharashtra is of concern as these mutations have not been yet catalogued, the Union ministry of health and family welfare announced on Wednesday.

“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 variants of concern (VOCs),” said health ministry in a statement.

“These have been categorised 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 and Union Territories,” the statement added.

Since the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) initiated its work, 771 variants of concerns (VOCs) have been detected in a total of 10,787 positive samples shared by States/UTs. These comprise 736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage, 34 samples were found positive for viruses of the South African (B.1.351) lineage, and 1 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.

Genome sequencing and analysis have been carried out on samples from arriving international travelers, contacts of those positive for VOC and community samples from most of the states at INSACOG partner laboratories.

In December, 2020, the ministry of health established INSACOG that is a group of 10 national laboratories meant to perform genome sequencing of positive samples.

INSACOG has been carrying out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating Covid-19 viruses.

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According to the health ministry, from Kerala 2,032 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. It has also been reported from 16 other countries, including UK, Denmark, Singapore, Japan, and Australia. As of now, these can be, at best, said to be variant under investigation.

“Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states. Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyse the situation,” the ministry statement further read.

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