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Rapid district-wise genomic surveillance to be stepped up in Maharashtra says CSIR chief

Dr Sujeet Singh, chief of the National Centre for Disease Control, said that mutants in all likelihood could be one of the reasons for the increase in transmissibility of virus from 50 to 70 per cent.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
Updated: March 25, 2021 10:48:03 am
covid-19 mutationsDouble mutations of E484Q and L452R in as many as 206 samples in Maharashtra have fast emerged as a concern(representational)

Double mutations of E484Q and L452R in as many as 206 samples in Maharashtra have fast emerged as a concern, with Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr Shekhar Mande, now stepping up district-wise genomic surveillance.

“We have to be careful before we attribute the surge in Maharashtra to double mutations. Still, we are going to step up rapid genomic surveillance,” Dr Mande told The Indian Express while urging citizens to tackle this challenge by strictly following Covid-appropriate behaviour.

Mutations of concern in Maharashtra include N501Y in six samples, 11 samples had E484K, 112 samples had E484Q mutation while 206 samples had double mutants of E484Q + L452 R. Another 116 samples had L452R and 36 samples had N440K mutant.

Maharashtra has recorded variants of concern in 62 samples, including 56 of UK strain (B.1.1.7), five total South African strains (B.1351) and one Brazil variant (P1).

Dr Sujeet Singh, chief of the National Centre for Disease Control, said that mutants in all likelihood could be one of the reasons for the increase in transmissibility of virus from 50 to 70 per cent. Mutations have occurred in the spiked protein area of the SARS-CoV2 virus. `
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“The L452 R has been detected in outbreaks in California. All these are under investigation and to declare specific links to the surge, we need concrete statistical evidence. The data will be uploaded on international platforms. As per the WHO criteria, specific correlations with surge in cases due to any variant requires evidence and epidemiological data,” said Dr Singh.

However, he ruled out any direct link between the variants and mutations to the surge in cases in Maharashtra.

Dr Shahid Jameel, chair of Scientific Advisory Group of Indian SARS CoV 2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), set up to monitor the genomic variations in the SARS-CoV2 on a regular basis through a multi-laboratory network from DBT, CSIR, ICMR and NCDC in December 2020, said that links with surge in cases due to double mutations has yet to be established.

“Mutation in a part of the spiked protein of the SARS-CoV2 virus – that of L452 R mutation — makes it easier for the virus to infect and E484 Q mutation (a key mutation in SA and Brazil variants) allows for the escape of antibodies. So when both come together, what can be the implication is a question that has to be determined epidemiologically,” Dr Jameel told The Indian Express.

While there is not enough data as yet on whether the double mutation is helping the virus spread faster, Dr Jameel said that the rate of appearance of mutations in January, February and March this year has not changed that much. “… The rate at which the mutations have been detected have stayed constant for the past three months. So, we cannot say the virus is spreading faster. On fears that it can lead to severe disease, we still have no answers unless the mutation is detected frequently in those patients with severe disease vis a vis the milder ones,” Dr Jameel said, adding that the way forward would be sending more targeted samples to INSACOG laboratories to check for these double mutations.

Experts with Maharashtra’s Covid-19 task force are actively connected with CSIR labs.

Dr Shashank Joshi, a member of the state Covid task force, said that meetings are being set up with the state and CSIR labs for district-wise surveillance. “This is a faster spreading strain and whether homegrown or internationally acquired, we can’t be complacent and have to ensure aggressive masking, contact tracing and isolation protocols and vaccination programmes,” he said.

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