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Mumbai civic body flags ‘XE Covid variant’, Centre says doesn’t match

On the XE variant, Covid-19 task force member Dr Shashank Joshi assured there is no need to panic.

Written by Rupsa Chakraborty | Mumbai |
Updated: April 7, 2022 10:58:41 am
India has been consistently objecting to the methodology adopted by the WHO to project excess mortality estimates based on mathematical models, the Union Health Ministry said in a statement. (Express Photo)

Mumbai’s civic body Wednesday flagged — for the first time in the country — what it said was a case of the new XE variant of Covid-19, only for the Centre to announce hours later that the sample does not match the variant’s genomic picture.

INSACOG, the national genomics consortium, will carry out another round of sequencing to confirm this finding, officials said.

The XE variant is a mutation of the Omicron variant. Experts believe it will not cause severe infection.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had announced the detection of the case after conducting genome sequencing on 230 samples of Covid-19 patients. It said Wednesday that 228 samples were identified as Omicron cases and one as Kappa, which was prevalent back in 2020. It flagged the remaining sample, that of a 50-year-old South African woman, as an XE variant case.

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According to BMC, this patient, a shooting crew member, had arrived in Mumbai from South Africa on February 10. She had no travel history before that.
The civic body also said she was fully vaccinated and tested on arrival. Her report did not show the presence of any Covid-19 pathogen.

“But on March 2, in a routine testing conducted by Suburban Diagnostics, she tested positive and was quarantined in a hotel room,” read a BMC statement. When tested the next day, her sample turned out negative.

INSACOG, which genomically sequenced the case, said the sample does not suggest the presence of the variant.

And the Union Health Ministry said in a statement: “FastQ files in respect of the sample, which is being said to be ‘XE’ variant were analysed in detail by genomic experts of INSACOG, who have inferred that the genomic constitution of this variant does not correlate with the genomic picture of ‘XE’ variant.”

On Wednesday, INSACOG held a meeting, which was attended by Dr Jayanthi Shastri, professor and head of the microbiology department at B Y L Nair hospital, and director of the molecular diagnostics lab and in-charge of the genome sequencing facility at Kasturba hospital.

The BMC has been asked to send the sequencing data to the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics for further analysis.

“We have found the XE variant in our sequencing, so it was announced. As we have been asked, we will send the data to INSACOG for analysis,” said Suresh Kakani, additional commissioner, BMC.

Later, the state public health department, stated: “…INSACOG has decided to go for another round of genomic sequencing at a national laboratory for such conformation of XE variant.”

Meanwhile, the state Covid-19 task force asked people to not panic and be more vigilant. They also advised people to wear masks indoors and in crowded places.

“As it is a mutation of Omicron, which doesn’t involve lungs, it is believed that XE variant will not cause severe infection,” said Dr Shashank Joshi, a task force member.

Asked if the task force would again make masking mandatory for the people, he said that there are no such plans as of now. “We need to increase genome sequencing and the vulnerable population with comorbidities need to be careful,” he added.


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