A month on, Maharashtra's Amaravati is yet to receive results for the 100 samples it has sent out to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune to check for new strains of coronavirus reported last month. It has not heard back even on a single one.
However, the authorities said the delay has not hampered their measures to contain the spread of the virus. But many experts opined that the local administration will be in a better position to control the spread if it is provided with the latest information of any possible new strains.
In February, 100 samples were sent to the lab, which is part of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), a network of 10 labs created to monitor the different genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, reported The Print.
The health minister disclosed that analysis of samples from Maharashtra had revealed "an increase in the fraction of samples with E484Q and L452R mutations".Both the mutations are said to be immune escaping, which means that it can evade antibodies and can further lead to increased transmission of the virus.
Till now, both mutations have been detected in several countries, but it is unclear whether a variant with both these mutations has been found in other places apart from India.
The district officials in Amaravati said they are yet to be informed about the results of the sequencing.
Shailesh Nawal, District Collector, Amaravati said, "There was a state-level team, as well as a central level team that visited us and on their advice, we have sent those samples, and I think the process must be on, but this being a technical and expert field, the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) will declare those results."
According to Dr Prashant Thakre, the nodal officer at the COVID-19 diagnosis lab that is set up at Sant Gadge Baba Amaravati University, four samples were already sent to BJ Medical College and they had tested positive for the E484Q mutation.
He also informed that 25 more samples will be sent to NIV Pune in the first week of April.
Last month, Amaravati and the neighbouring Yavatmal district in Maharashtra had emerged as epicentres of the second wave as the positivity rates stood at 50 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively. At present, Amaravati has a total of 48,772 COVID-19 cases.
According to the standard procedure, the results of the genome sequencing analysis are first delivered to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in Delhi. Later, it communicates with the state units of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) which communicates to various districts.
The district-level authorities said that the gap in information regarding genome sequencing results will not affect COVID-19 response. However, experts have pointed out that notifying the district management about the results of genome sequencing is important in the public health response related to COVID-19.
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