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Opinion

New strain of Covid not yet found in India: experts

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India has yet to detect the new strain of coronavirus that has spread to some parts of the UK, senior government officials said on Monday, describing the restrictions on flight services as a “precautionary measure”.

The new strain is feared to be more infectious and could be 70% more transmissible, experts in the UK said over the weekend, prompting more than 40 countries, including India, to suspend flight operations.

“It is just a precautionary measure. This strain has not been found in India, ”confirmed Rajesh Bhushan, the Union’s health secretary.

Dr Samiran Panda, director of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), also said: “So far we have not found anything related to the UK strain in any of our samples. Either in our laboratory at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune or in any other laboratory in the country that performs genome sequencing, there is no evidence of this mutation in our samples. “

As part of epidemiological surveillance, India has been sequencing the virus genome to track mutations.

“It is an ongoing process that began about eight months ago. The process is that if a new mutation is found in the virus, it is compared with past mutations to determine the change. So far only minor mutations have been observed in the virus, which is not of much consequence, and no one has identified anything from this particular UK strain, ”said Dr Panda.

“We are constantly on the lookout, and it’s not like the strain has mutated in the UK and suddenly we will start looking for this mutation. If there is a mutation, it will show up in surveillance, but so far there is nothing of importance, “he added.

Virology experts who have been doing genome sequencing also say they have yet to come across this particular strain.

“We have been sequencing, but so far nothing of this type has been identified. There are two things, antigenic drift and antigenic variation in which drift is a minor change and the change suggests a major mutation in the structure of the virus. Many times, even if there has been a mutation, we have to see what impact it has clinically. Mutations in the Sars-Cov-2 virus have been detected in the past, but they have not meant much clinically, ”said a senior virologist from a prominent government laboratory approved to test for Covid-19, while asking not to be identified.

The mutation shouldn’t be a cause for concern, virologists said, as it has been shown to be more transmissible, meaning it will spread faster and not more virulent.

“There are three causes for concern when we talk about virus mutation: transmissibility, pathogenicity (the force to cause disease), immunogenicity (to provoke the body’s immune response). In both cases, in the UK and South Africa, the strains have been found to be more transmissible. The virulent part has not yet been established, ”said Dr. Jacob John, former head of the virology department at Christian Medical College, Vellore.

“It explains in part the second wave that the world is seeing; however, it will be difficult to predict the epidemic pattern in India as we do not have a systemic approach to pandemic research in India. We do not have the relevant data. We treat the outbreaks more as a public order issue in India, ”he added.

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