New novel coronavirus mutations, some more virulent than other, have been spreading across the globe. And India has not been immune to it. So far, the South African strain of the coronavirus was detected in four people and the Brazil variant has been seen in one. There are 187 cases of the UK strain in India.
Now, a new study SARS-CoV-2 genomics: An Indian perspective by scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) has claimed that there are more than 7,000 coronavirus mutations in India of which some could pose a serious risk. The CCMB alone has done an exhaustive analysis of over 5,000 coronavirus variants in India and how they have evolved over the course of the pandemic.
"We now have emerging evidence that N440K variant is spreading a lot more in southern states. Closer surveillance is needed to understand its spread properly," CCMB Director Rakesh Mishra said in the release. Accurate and timely detection of new variants that may show greater infectivity or worse clinical symptoms, including "immune escape", will be extremely important to pre-empt disastrous consequences, he said.
While vaccines are helpful, the "social vaccine" of masks, hand-hygiene and physical distance is the most effective weapon against the pandemic, the study said. The scientists presented their findings of analysis of over 5,000 coronavirus variants and how they have evolved over the course of the pandemic. "The take-home of this comprehensive work is that due to the natural process of mutation, variants will keep emerging. The best way to control the potential damage is to exercise extensive genome surveillance and take measures to prevent the spread of new variants as and when detected," it said.
"The novel variants that are worrying many countries globally have been identified with only a low prevalence in India so far and they include the "variants with immune-escape E484K mutation and the N501Y mutation with higher transmission rate", Mishra said.
"However, their apparent low prevalence might be simply because not enough sequencing has been done. More coronavirus genomes need to be sequenced across the country to accurately identify the emergence of these and other new variants," Mishra said.
Delhi directs genome sequencing
Lt Governor Anil Baijal had on Monday directed officials to launch cluster-based genome sequencing testing here as authorities and experts discussed new coronavirus variants at a meeting of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority.
Official sources said the lieutenant governor was told at the DDMA meeting that the newly-identified Indian mutants are reportedly "highly contagious" and that experts viewed it as a "major cause of concern".
"To deal with the new variants, the [Delhi] government will undertake cluster-based genome sequencing testing in Delhi. Testing, tracing and isolating will be intensified in the coming days," the sources said.
-Inputs from PTI