Third wave cannot be ruled out, closely watching on double mutant strain: CSIR DG Dr Shekhar Mande

MAHARASHTRA WAS facing a grave situation with a rapid spread in the double mutated strain, L452R and E484Q, of the novel coronavirus, and the situation needed to watched closely, said Dr Shekhar Mande, Director General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

“Whether or not it is fuelling the crisis can be better understood as we will be releasing our analysis of data from Maharashtra soon. More institutes will soon be added to the INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics). From today, National Chemical Laboratory will also join in the effort along with NIV (National Institute of Virology) and NCCS (National Centre for Cell Science) for genomic sequencing of samples,” Dr Mande told the media on Sunday.

The INSACOG is a group of 10 national laboratories established by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to carry out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating Covid-19 viruses apart from correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants. More than 700 variants of concern have been detected in 10,787 positive samples shared by states and union territories so far.

So far, an analysis of samples from Maharashtra has shown an increase in the fraction of samples with E484Q and L452R mutations. Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity, and have been found in about 15 to 20 per cent of the samples.

Maharashtra is bearing the brunt of this second wave with more than 45,000 new infections daily. More than 29.53 lakh have reportedly tested positive in the state. Efforts will also be made to add National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, for genomic sequencing of samples and a comprehensive training module will be sent to districts soon.

Dr Mande said all pandemics came in a wave and a third wave could not be ruled out. Even as increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts and prompt isolation of positive cases and contacts as well as treatment as per national protocols were underway, Dr Mande made an appeal to people in Maharashtra to exercise self-discipine during this period.

“The situation is becoming worse in Tier 2 and 3 cities and, hence, people should make maximum efforts to help curb the spread of the infection. It is possible that people have carried this mutant strain from California. We have also seen rising numbers in Brazil, France and England. But what we need to ensure is arrest and cut the chain of transmission. We cannot afford to let complacency set in and need to adopt Covid-appropriate behaviour at all times. For at least a year or two, large gatherings at weddings or birthday parties should be restricted. In times of crisis, historically, Maharashtra has always shown the way forward,” Dr Mande said.

Dr Mande also said vaccines were able to protect against extreme severe episodes. While scientific studies and review of literature on vaccines and their role with mutant strains were underway, there was a definite impact that could help reduce the intensity of the disease, he added.

On whether re-infections had caused a surge in the state, Dr Mande said, “Sero-positivity can come from prior exposure to virus – however, at times sero-positivity is not necessarily a passport to make us completely immune,” he said.

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