Mumbai: Almost 50% of the samples that have tested positive for Covid-19 in the state of late and were sent for genome sequencing have the newly identified and highly infectious Indian variant of SARS-CoV-2 called B.1.617.
Most of these samples are from Vidarbha and no sample submitted from the city has so far shown the B.1.617 variant, said scientists involved with INSACOG, a grouping of 10 national laboratories carrying out whole genomic sequencing of samples. The Union health ministry has so far not given specific details about the whole genome sequencing project. A communication on Friday said that as of Thursday, 13,614 whole genome sequencing samples had been processed at 10 INSACOG labs.
Two mutations known to have the ability to escape antibodies
Of these, 1,189 samples have tested positive for variants of concern for SARS COV-2 in India. These include 1,109 samples with UK variants; 79 samples with South African variant and one sample with the Brazil variant,” the ministry release said.
Some information on the results of the samples sent from the state was given to state health minister Rajesh Tope at a virtual meeting with Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Saturday. Tope said that of the 1,100 samples sent so far, 500 samples had been examined. “We have sought a detailed report from the central government but have been told that it will be available only at the end of the research,” he said.
The main concern in the state — and the rest of the world, too, because the Indian variant has already been isolated in multiple samples in the UK and the US — is the high transmissibility of the variant. “As the new variant is said to be highly infectious, we sought a report and revised guidelines, if any, from the Centre,” Tope said.
“In some samples, changes are seen, but there is no comment about whether they explain this surge in Maharashtra,” state director of health services Dr Archana Patil said.
The B.1.617 was first identified by scientists from the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi. They noted two mutations, L452R and E484K, that are known to have the ability to escape antibodies.
Articles written by experts across the world have noted that the Indian variant could be “at least in part” driving the current wave sweeping across the country. IGIB director Dr Anurag Agrawal said almost 15,000 Covid-19-positive samples had been studied since December. “It is present in a small percentage of samples, but its presence has been growing in recent weeks,” Dr Agrawal said.