While 187 cases of the UK strain, six of the South African (SA) and one of the Brazilian one — all contain the E484K mutation as well — have been detected in India, Niti Aayog’s member health VK Paul said it was unlikely the recent surge in cases in the country, especially in states like Maharashtra and Kerala, was related to them.
Speaking of the E484K strain along with the N440K one that has been detected in Kerala and Telengana, Paul said, “The three variants (UK, South Africa and Brazilian strains) as well as the N440K and E484 variants have been detected, but there is no reason for us today to believe, based on scientific information present with us, that these variants are responsible for the upsurge in the outbreak that we see in some districts of Maharashtra as also Kerala.”
Paul’s statement on the two strains — the mutation causes a change to the spike protein structure of the virus — was based on a pool of 3,500 viruses sequenced from patient samples by the Indian SARS COV-2 Genomic Consortium, which comprises 10 laboratories that are under ICMR/CSIR/department of biotechnology/health ministry.
This was done as per a tracking protocol formalised when the consortium was announced.
While speaking of the 3,500 strains that have been sequenced so far, Paul added, “when we are doing sequencing, we are looking for any abnormal shift in the virus character”.
The number of new Covid-19 cases reported in the country dropped on Tuesday to 10,584 after rising to 14,264 on February 21; it was marginally lower at 14,199 on February 22. At the beginning of the month, India had 11,427 cases and this fell to 8,635 on February 2. This has sparked fears of a second wave, and one possibly due to the more infectious UK and South African strains. Two states, Maharashtra and Kerala, contribute three fourths of the active infections in the country.
The health ministry, on Tuesday, said that the Centre has send or is in the process of sending teams of experts, including in public health and epidemiology, to assess the situation in states and Union territories—Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu & Kashmir—where there has been a rising trend so as to advise the state governments on what containment steps need to be taken.
With the government saying the UK and South African mutations are not responsible for the surge in Maharashtra and the high absolute numbers in Kerala, the focus is back on the failure to observe Covid-appropriate behaviour. After local-train services resumed in Mumbai on February 2, the municipal and Railways authorities had reported close to 5,000 people being fined for not wearing masks in the train in the first two weeks itself. Following the rise in numbers, the Maharashtra government has imposed several restrictions in high-incidence districts, while the chief minister has said that the trend of Covid-19 spread will be observed over the next 8-15 days to see if the state will need to go for a lockdown.