A brand new variant of the coronavirus that originated within the United Kingdom someday in September is prone to have already reached India, consultants mentioned on Tuesday, calling for elevated complete genome-sequencing based mostly surveillance to detect the brand new mutation and stop additional unfold.
The new variant, VUI–202012/01, which accounted for almost 60% of all instances in London by mid-December, is regarded as 70% extra transmissible than earlier variations of the coronavirus. Scientists are nonetheless researching on the consequences, virulence and severity of the brand new pressure.
To stop the brand new mutation from taking maintain within the nation, the federal government has banned flights from UK from Tuesday night time, and administered exams to passengers who’ve arrived from Britain. On Tuesday, 22 folks — together with six from Delhi — examined constructive for the virus, and their samples have been despatched for genome sequencing.
“The possibility that it hasn’t arrived in India is low,” mentioned Dr Anurag Agarwal, director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), one of many labs sequencing Sars-CoV-2 genomes. He defined that the virus was discovered to be extra transmissible. however added that the transmission may happen provided that folks weren’t carrying masks.
If precautions will not be adopted, the brand new variant might result in superspreading occasions, different consultants warned.
“It is likely that the new variant may have already come to India, you will find it only if you are looking for it. This is the reason why we need to scale up the number of genomic sequencing that we are doing. India has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world and it is likely that some variant like it might have generated within the country too,” mentioned Dr Shahid Jameel, virologist and director of Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University.
He estimated that the nation sequences one genome of the virus for each three,000 constructive instances, whereas the World Health Organization mentioned that one genome in 300 constructive instances ought to ideally be sequenced. “And, it is not like we do not have the capability. There needs to be more focus on it,” he mentioned.
At a authorities briefing on Tuesday, NITI Aayog member Dr VK Paul mentioned that India will use its community of laboratories below the Indian Council of Medical Research, Department of Biotechnology, and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to sequence extra samples, particularly from the travellers from UK who take a look at constructive.
“Our labs have been asked to prioritise the recent virus samples and send them for genetic sequencing. The ICMR, CSIR, and DBT labs have been doing it so far but it will be scaled up. The positive specimen from passengers from UK in the last few days will also be sequenced,” he mentioned.
Dr Agarwal mentioned some Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) kits that use the actual gene the place the mutation has occurred for detecting virus might give out false negatives. “We need to recalibrate our tests. The -PCR usually uses two genes to detect the presence of the virus, we might not insist on a double gene positive to give a positive report,” mentioned Agarwal.
The United Kingdom has already issued pointers for its labs to adapt the processes to make sure that the RT-PCR exams can detect this variant.
A reason behind concern was that the mutation was on the receptor-binding area of the spike protein, which the virus makes use of to enter the human physique. This protein can be one of many targets of vaccines presently being developed.
But consultants mentioned that vaccines would stay efficient regardless of the mutation.
“Think of the protein used by a vaccine as a surface; the immune response generated is against the complete surface, so even if there is a change in a particular point the vaccine still remains effective,” mentioned Dr Jameel.
Dr Agarwal added, “The vaccine produces many antibodies and even if some do not bind, the vaccine remains effective. Other than that, there is T-cell immunity that is generic and a mutation in the binding site does not change that,” referring to cells that kill contaminated cells and stop the virus from spreading.
Increased surveillance by genomic sequencing may additionally assist the nation discover the “ideal variant” for a pure vaccine for Covid-19.