Amid the surge in coronavirus cases, the central government disregarded scientific warnings about the new variant in early March, but the government failed to take note of it, according to Reuters.
The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium, or INSACOG, which was set up by the government, released an alert about the new variant.
One of the scientists, who is also a director of a research centre in northern India, told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that the alert was sent to a top official who reports directly to the Prime Minister. According to the report, it could not be verified if the official passed on the INSACOG findings to PM Modi.
In late December, the government established INSACOG as a forum of scientific advisors with the aim of detecting coronavirus genomic variants that could pose a public health risk. INSACOG is a consortium of ten national laboratories that research virus variants. According to Ajay Parida, director of the state-run Institute of Life Sciences and a member of INSACOG, researchers first discovered B.1.617, now known as the Indian form of the virus, in February.
The director of the northern India research centre told Reuters that INSACOG shared its findings with the health ministry's National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) before March 10, warning that infections could spread quickly across the region. Around the same time, INSACOG started drafting a media statement for the Ministry of Health.
The latest Indian strain had two major mutations in the portion of the virus that binds to human cells, according to a version of the draft seen by Reuters, and it had been traced in 15 per cent to 20 per cent of samples from Maharashtra, the state with the most cases. The mutations, known as E484Q and L452R, were defined as "highly concerning" in the draft statement. "There is data of E484Q mutant viruses escaping highly neutralising antibodies in cultures, and there is data that the L452R mutation was responsible for both increased transmissibility and immune escape," the report said.
The results were made public two weeks later, on March 24, when the ministry released a media statement that did not contain the terms "high concern." The statement only stated that more troublesome versions necessitated the implementation of steps already in place, such as increased testing and quarantine.
"I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists, we provide the evidence, policymaking is the job of the government," said Shahid Jameel, chair of the scientific advisory group of INSACOG. Amid the increasing COVID cases, Kumbh gathering and election rallies held by political leaders worsened the situation in India.