UK Covid variant in Delhi, doubled to 50 per cent by March end: NCDC

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While the UK variant (B.1.1.7) is the primary one in Punjab, the scenario is still unfolding in New Delhi, experts said.

“We are seeing a different type of scenario with both the UK variant and the Indian variant B.1.617 (double mutation) in New Delhi,” Director of the National Centre for Disease Control Dr Sujeet Singh said on Friday.

The UK variant, however, has doubled to 50 percent by March end, the NCDC chief said.

“If we try to correlate – the surge we are observing in Delhi directly correlates to the type of variant being observed,” he said at a webinar on Genome Sequencing of SARS-CoV19, organised by the Department of Biotechnology, on Friday.

So far, 15,135 samples have been sequenced by INSACOG, a consortium formed last year in November to step up genome sequencing and surveillance. Of these, variants of concern (11 per cent) were found in 1,735 cases. A total of 1,644 cases of the UK variant have been found across the country, 112 of South African variant and 732 of the Indian variant B.1.617 (double mutation).

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According to NCDC data – a total of 3,208 samples have been sequenced in Delhi, of which 687 samples are from travellers. Variants of concern have been found in 438 sequenced samples.

Of the total samples at least 2,521 were from the community. Among these, the UK variant was found in 324 samples while 19 samples were positive for the South African variant. A total of 75 samples showed the B.1.617 variant (double mutation) in New Delhi.

A total of 1,779 samples have been sequenced in Maharashtra and in 71 cases variants of concern were identified. From among the total samples, at least 1,723 were from the community and here the UK variant was found in 29 samples while the double mutant variant was found in 427 samples.

In Punjab, a total of 752 samples have been sequenced and variants of concern were found in 553 cases. Of these, 752 samples a total of 741 were from among the community and the UK variant was found in 543 samples.

In West Bengal, a total of 1,561 samples have been sequenced and variants of concern have been found in 49 cases. The double mutant variant in West Bengal has been identified in 124 samples.

From Telangana, a total of 520 samples have been sequenced and variants of concern have been found in 211 cases while in Gujarat 357 samples have been sequenced and variants of concern found in 62 cases.

When contacted by The Indian Express, Dr Singh said they could not conclusively say that surge in Delhi was being driven by the UK variant alone. “We cannot say this as the numbers of samples were less. We have more runs that have taken place and analysing more data,” he said.

“There are scenarios that we are observing. We have data from genome sequencing of samples and are now linking it with IDSP data. The UK variant was the primary one in Punjab while in most cities of Maharashtra, the positivity of the Indian variant B.1.617 was more than 50 per cent,” he added.

“We are comparing and observing trends and linking with epidemiological data,” he said. Disease epidemiology that is transmission, severity and outcome depends on many factors and the role of variants/mutations is limited.

“So far, the severity of SARS-CoV2 in Covid-affected patients cannot be directly attributed to a particular variant but we are trying to assess the genomic picture of the cases due to the increasing surge in Punjab and Delhi. As of now there does not seem to be any rise in clinical severity of cases,” Dr Singh said.

“This was the first thing we targeted when we went to Maharashtra. In a particular hospital, there was high mortality and we wanted to understand the genomic picture so we collected 100 samples and sequenced it. We found one UK variant and at that time the severity could not be attributed to a particular variant.”

“We are now assessing the genomic picture in Punjab and Delhi. As of now, there is no rise in clinical severity of cases. Still the strategy is that our central surveillance team has identified sentinel sites at tertiary hospitals in each state where samples are taken from clinically severe cases so as to understand how genomic variant is linked to severity or fatality of the disease. This is an ongoing process,” Dr Singh said.

“Ramping up capacity to sequence more number of samples is a cost-intensive procedure and hence, we are also following WHO guidelines on collecting representative samples,” he added. Samples of persons who have been re-infected post vaccination are also being sent for genome sequencing to designated laboratories, Dr Singh said.

“We should understand the disease transmission is affected by large number of factors, immunity status, large pool of susceptibility persons, not following Covid-appropriate behaviour and together they combine to give a surge,” he reiterated.

“We are not controlling other factors and cannot attribute the surge to a particular variant. Looking at the complexity of the pandemic, the complacent nature of the community needs to change — that is the need of the hour,” the NCDC chief said.

All vaccines despite variants are blocking severe disease and deaths, Dr Anurag Agarwal, director of CSIR, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, said, while Dr Priya Abraham, director of National Institute of Virology, said the aim should be to get as many as vaccinated so that the risk against severe disease is virtually eliminated.





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