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New Variants May Be Driving Covid Rise In India | India News

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NEW DELHI: India’s failure to quickly screen Covid-19 samples for new variants risks damaging its battle against a record surge in infections, with scientists warning that delays could hurt everything from efficacy from the vaccine to effective hospital treatments.
India has tested less than 1% of its positive samples, according to government data, compared to the UK, which has sequenced 8% of infections and 33% in the last week, said the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium. . The United States reported last month that it was sequencing about 4% of its 400,000 new weekly cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted.
India surpassed 100,000 new infections a day on Sunday, and its wealthiest state, Maharashtra, has become the epicenter. It stopped all non-essential services, ordered private companies to work from home, and closed shopping malls and restaurants until April. Other states have also imposed restrictions, although none are as severe.

After new UK variants were discovered in several inbound passengers, India established a consortium of 10 state laboratories to sequence positive test samples in December. However, between January and March the country has only studied 11,064 of its samples, the Health Ministry said in a briefing on March 30, representing less than 0.6% in that period.
The resurgence of the cases could hurt nascent growth in Asia’s third-largest economy, which fell into a historic recession last year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a strict nationwide shutdown. Genetic sequencing of test samples helps detect new variants quickly as the virus mutates, allowing countries to rework their virus strategies based on new strains. But surveillance is patchy globally and scientists warn that dangerous mutations are likely spreading undetected.
Variant concerns
India does not have enough data on the new variants to explain the sharp nine-fold increase in infections of about 11,000 new daily cases in early February, said Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
“Basically, we are reverse engineering to explain the characteristics of the virus curve, since we do not have credible data on the variants of interest and genomic surveillance,” Mukherjee said. “The more you let the infection spread, the more likely the virus is to mutate.”
In India, as of March 30, 807 cases related to variants of the United Kingdom have been detected, 47 of the South African strain and one of the Brazilian form, according to the Ministry of Health, which has maintained that the increase in new infections is not linked to new variants. . Studies suggest that some of these new strains are more contagious, with evidence pointing to one of them being more deadly and another causing reinfections.
A spokeswoman for the Health Ministry did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
India has enough laboratory capacity for genome sequencing, but obtaining a wide variety of regular samples from across the country, including rural inland areas and potential super-propagator events, has been a problem, said Rakesh Mishra, director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, one of the laboratories that works to sequence positive virus samples.
“We are not sequencing for the sake of numbers, we are sequencing in a meaningful way,” Mishra said. More needs to be done, he said, noting that the government was mobilizing resources to obtain adequate samples from all regions.
Virus rise
As infections rise, five states are in the middle of elections with thousands of voters huddled for campaign rallies, while northern Uttarakhand is marking the month-long Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela, drawing hundreds of thousands. of people on the banks of the river. Ganges River.
It is this increased movement of people, along with slow vaccines and poor compliance with masking and social distancing that is contributing to the new peak, said Rijo M. John, an economist and public health policy analyst based in Kerala consulting for the World Health Organization. “While the second wave so far has been less lethal, everything is going to be worse than the first wave.”
The world’s largest vaccination campaign, which began on January 16, has failed to meet the government’s own goal, haunted by an over-reliance on technology and a lack of proactive measures to reduce doubts about vaccines, John said. .
India is vaccinating at an average rate of 2.6 million doses per day. At this rate, it will take another two years to cover 75% of its population. About 5% have received one dose and only 0.8% have received the two necessary injections, according to Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
People had let their guard down after seeing people with mild cases of Covid-19 recover, said Jayaprakash Muliyil, chairman of the scientific advisory committee at the National Institute of Epidemiology.
“So the group of people who were very careful, who took the greatest precautions, suddenly changed their behavior,” Muliyil said. “For three months there was this tantalizing drop in cases, and the average person believed it was gone.”
Modi, who on Sunday described the rise in the virus as “alarming”, is scheduled to meet with chief ministers of state on Thursday to discuss the looming health crisis.
“It is much easier to implement vaccination when the infection is not that high,” Mukherjee said. “Now the healthcare capacity is stretched between vaccination and Covid care.”

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