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NCDC seeks more samples to explain surge in Maharashtra

Maharashtra reported more than 23,000 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, very close to the peak of 24,886 it had achieved in September last year.

Considering the speed with which coronavirus cases have been rising in Maharashtra, the National Centre for Disease Control has called for more virus samples from the state to be sent for genome sequencing to ascertain whether the current surge was the result of any new, faster-transmitting mutant.

Maharashtra reported more than 23,000 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, very close to the peak of 24,886 it had achieved in September last year.

“We need more clarity about these mutations. We have asked for more samples from Maharashtra,” head of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr Sujeet Singh told The Indian Express.

He said mutations in viruses are normal occurrences, and the mere presence of new mutants does not reveal much, unless it is also shown to possess characteristics that help in faster transmission, or result in more severe infections.

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“Once these mutations are correlated with the existing public health scenario, only then we can say that these new variants are a matter of concern. As of now, we need to do much more to build these correlations, and that is why it is important to do more genome sequencing on samples from Maharashtra. More scientific evidence is needed to say with certainty that the surge in Maharashtra is attributable to new variants,” he said.

More than 1,200 virus samples from Maharashtra have so far been sent for genome sequencing, at the Pune-based National Institute of Virology, and the National Centre for Cell Science. So far, two mutants, named E484Q and L452R, are being further investigated. Initial studies have shown that E484Q mutant can possibly escape antibody neutralisation, while L452R can increase the rate of infection. The samples that initially showed these two mutants were from Akola and Amravati. More detailed studies are being carried out.

“We do not have definite signals of any particular new variant that is pushing the pandemic surge, but work is underway at the genomic surveillance consortium of ten national institutes (called INSACOG) to work on genome sequencing of virus samples,” NITI Aayog member Dr V K Paul said at a media briefing in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Dr Rakesh Mishra, Director of Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, one of the laboratories engaged in genome sequencing, told The Indian Express that there was no dominant variant of the virus that could correlate with the surge in Maharashtra.

“There is no clear indication that the surge is largely due to a particular variant. At the moment, the prime cause of the surge could simply be a combination of few super spreader events and the fact that in most places Covid-appropriate behaviour is not being followed,” Mishra said.

Meanwhile, at a Health Ministry briefing in New Delhi, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said several districts in Maharashtra, including those that did not have a very high absolute number of cases, were matters of concern because of the very fast growth in Covid-19 numbers.

Bhushan said Nanded district had recorded a 385 per cent rise in cases in the last 15 days, while Nandurbar (224 per cent), Beed (219 per cent), Dhule (169 per cent), Nashik (157 per cent), Jalgaon (147 percent), Bhandara (140 per cent) and Nagpur (122 per cent) were the other places witnessing rapid growth.

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First published on: 17-03-2021 at 10:54:43 pm
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