In a press Information Bureau release, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has acknowledged the presence of new coronavirus variants in as many as 18 states in the country. A new double mutant variant of coronavirus has also been identified in India, according to the Ministry of Health.
A group of 10 national laboratories in India, established by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare which was established on 25th December last year has been carrying out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating COVID-19 viruses.
The consortium called The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) has stated that 771 variants of concerns (VOCs) have been identified in a total of 10787 positive samples shared by States/UTs.
These include 736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage. The UK variant has been the dominant new coronavirus variant in the sample.
Apart from the UK variant s total of 34 samples were found positive for viruses of the South African (B.1.351) lineage. Just one sample was found positive for viruses of the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.
The important takeaway from the finding is the widespread presence of these coronavirus variants across 18 states in India. It is worth noting that these findings represent a small sample size of only 736 positive cases. Considering that only a small percentage of total Covid-19 positive cases are sent for genome sequencing, there is a possibility that SARS-CoV-2 variants may already be present in larger numbers.
The analysis of samples from Maharashtra has revealed that compared to December last year, there has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations (double mutation). Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity. L452R mutation potentially favors the adaptive evolution of SARS-CoV-2.
These mutations have been found in about 15-20% of samples and do not match any previously recorded VOCs. These have been categorized 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/UTs.
From Kerala 2032 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. This variant 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 or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States.
Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyze the situation, the press release concluded.
India recorded 47,262 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours. The country reported 275 deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day fatality this year. Maharashtra was off its peak, reporting 28,699 cases, but several other states continue to rise.
Karnataka, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh reported high numbers, apart from Maharashtra and Punjab. Maharashtra reported more than 100 deaths for the first time since December 16.