Variants behind the rise of Covid in India? We must test more

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India has now reported more than 115,000 new infections daily.

India’s inability to quickly examine Covid-19 samples for new variants risks damaging its battle against a record spike in infections, with scientists warning delays could damage everything, from efficiency from vaccines to effective hospital treatments.

India has tested less than 1% of its positive samples, according to government data, compared to the UK which sequenced 8% of infections and 33% last week, the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium said. Last month, the United States reported that it was sequencing about 4% of its 400,000 new weekly cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted.

India reported more than 115,000 new daily infections on Wednesday, bringing its number of cases to 12.8 million, behind Brazil and the U.S. Its richest state, Maharashtra, became the epicenter, forcing the government to halt all non-essential services, ordering private businesses to work from home and shutting malls and restaurants until April. Other states have imposed restrictions as well, but none are as severe.

After new UK variants were discovered in several inbound passengers, India set up a consortium of 10 state laboratories to sequence positive test samples in December. However, between January and March, the country studied only 11,064 of its samples, the health ministry said in a briefing on March 30, or less than 0.6% over that period.

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The resurgence of cases could hurt the nascent growth of Asia’s third-largest economy, which fell into a historic recession last year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a strict nationwide lockdown. Genetic sequencing of test samples allows rapid detection of new variants as the virus mutates, allowing countries to rework their viral strategies based on the new strains. But surveillance is uneven globally, and scientists warn dangerous mutations are likely to spread undetected.

Variation concerns

India does not have enough data on the new variants to explain the sharp nine-fold increase in infections from around 11,000 new daily cases in early February, said Bhramar Mukherjee, professor at the School of Public Health of the University of Michigan.

“We’re basically doing reverse engineering to explain the characteristics of the viral curve because we don’t have credible data on the variants of concern and genomic surveillance,” Mukherjee said. “The longer you let the infection spread, the more likely the virus is to mutate.”

In India, 807 cases linked to British variants, 47 of the South African strain and one of the Brazilian form were detected as of March 30, according to the Department of Health, which maintained that the increase in new infections did not is not related to new variants. . Studies suggest that some of these newer strains are more contagious, with evidence indicating that one is more deadly and another leads to re-infections.

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A spokesperson for the Department of Health did not respond to email requests for comment.

India has sufficient laboratory capacity for genome sequencing, but obtaining a wide range of regular samples from all over the country – including the rural hinterland and potential super events. spreaders – has been a problem, said Rakesh Mishra, director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, one of the labs working 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 is mobilizing resources to obtain appropriate samples from all regions.

Virus surge

As infections soar, five states are in the midst of elections with thousands of voters flocking for election rallies, while Uttarakhand marks the month-long Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people on the banks of the Ganges. .

It is this increased movement of people, along with the slowness of vaccinations and the slide in compliance with masking and social distancing that are contributing to the new spike, said Rijo M. John, Kerala-based economist and health policy analyst. public consultation for the World Health Organization. “Although the second wave has so far been less deadly, it is set to be worse than the first.”

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The world’s largest vaccination campaign, which began on January 16, failed to meet the government’s target, due to over-reliance on technology and the lack of proactive measures to reduce the reluctance to vaccinate, John said.

India vaccinates 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% received a dose and only about 0.8% received the necessary two injections, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

People had let their guard down after seeing those with mild cases of Covid-19 recovering, said Jayaprakash Muliyil, chairman of the scientific advisory committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology.

“So the group of people who were very careful, who were taking 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.”

Prime Minister Modi, who on Sunday described the outbreak of the virus as “alarming”, is due to meet with chief state ministers on Thursday to discuss the brewers’ health crisis.

“It is much easier to roll out the vaccination when the infection is not that high,” Mukherjee said. “Now the healthcare capacity is extended between vaccination and Covid care.”

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