Coronavirus | Three quasi-subspecies of virus in circulation in India, says ICMR

Scientists yet to classify variant as Indian strain.

April 01, 2020 12:28 am | Updated 08:42 am IST - NEW DELHI

A representational image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A representational image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A mixture of three quasi-subspecies of SARS-CoV-2 is in circulation in India, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Tuesday. These imported variants showed no differences from how they behaved in the place of origin. Scientists are yet to classify a SARS-Cov-2 variant as an Indian strain.

R. Gangakhedkar, head of the ICMR’s Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases-I Division, said, “India’s COVID-19 cases were mainly from people with travel history and their immediate contacts, which is to say that this virus was brought in from outside. We are not seeing any variation from what is being seen on how this strain is behaving around the world. So there is no difference in its severity. However, in a large country like India, it’s difficult to predict an accurate trend about the progression of COVID-19 because we still don’t have enough time gap between the upswing of cases.” This, he explained, did not change India’s reporting, isolation or testing protocol.

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He said the progression in terms of cases could not be compared with any other country as of now and people should be looking at the risk of exposure and adherence to physical distancing.

The ICMR admitted that availability of testing kits was still an issue, and masks should not be used indiscriminately. 

Dr. Gangakhedkar added that India would be able to make indigenous diagnostic kits within the next month or two. “So far, 42,788 samples have been tested in India; of these, 4,346 were tested on Monday. This is 36% of our capacity. Forty-seven private laboratories were allowed to test for COVID-19, and they conducted 399 tests on Monday,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said that even a single case was a hotspot, especially when the country registered its highest single-day jump in COVID-19 cases since January 30. The number of cases on Tuesday stood at 1,397, with 1,238 active ones and 35 deaths. 

Reports from the State Health Departments put the number of positive cases at 1,544, with 1,376 active ones.

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At a press conference here on Tuesday, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, said the jump in cases could be attributed to “lack of community support”. Even if one person broke the nation’s commitment to physical distancing and lockdown, the results could be very adverse.

Speaking about hotspots, he said that even when a single case was found, a team moved in to contain the situation and break the chain of transmission as soon as possible. “The number of hotspots is dynamic and India’s best bet continues to be physical distancing and isolation. A success story today can become a hotspot tomorrow,” he said.

Punya Salila Srivastava, Joint Secretary, Home Ministry, said more than 6 lakh migrants had been accommodated in 61,000 relief camps across India.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan formed a team of experts for guidance of COVID-19 testing and research and organised a meeting of a Group of Ministers on Tuesday, said Mr. Agarwal. An e-mail support group had been put in place for helping doctors across India overcome technical glitches in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

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The Health Ministry said Dr. Vardhan met senior officials of the ICMR, the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Biotechnology to review the sampling and testing strategy. “Currently 129 government laboratories are functional with a capacity of 13,000 tests per day, along with 49 private laboratories accredited to the National Accreditation Board for Testing & Calibration Laboratories (NABL). The private chains have around 16,000 collection centres. Also adequate test kits have been procured and disseminated across the States...,” said a release from the Ministry.

Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, said over 500 entities in diagnostics, drugs, ventilators, protection gear and disinfecting systems had identified and over 200 proposals had been received in the last one week against the DST’s funding calls. Over 20 entities were under consideration for support in the first phase, with the relevance, cost, speed and scale of solutions taken into account, he said.

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The Department of Biotechnology has formed a consortium to support the development of medical equipment. The manufacture of the first indigenous kit, developed by a start-up in Pune, is scaled up to nearly one lakh units a week. “A manufacturing facility for indigenous development of ventilators, testing kits, imaging equipment and ultrasound and high-end radiology equipment has been set up in Visakhapatnam where manufacturing will start in the first week of April,” the release said.


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