Hyderabad: Indian geneticists and researchers are set to take up widespread genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 to ascertain whether the new mutation of the virus has already reached the Indian shores and whether any other new mutations have occurred in India.
The new mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, known as ‘B.1.1.7’ (also called as VUI-202012/01 that stands for Variant Under Investigation in December 2020), has triggered an alarming rise in Covid infections in the United Kingdom and other European countries, prompting suspension of flights to and from the UK by India and several other countries.
The sharp rise in Covid infections due to the B 1.1.7 strain in the UK is believed to have started in the first week of December. It is not yet clear whether the mutated strains have already entered India through travellers from UK, Europe, South Africa and Australia, where new variants of the virus have been reported.
“So far, we have not reported this new variant of coronavirus in India and there could be two reasons for that. One is that the new variant might not have reached India. The second reason could be that it variant is already in India but we have not been able to isolate the new mutation so far,” Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Director Dr RK Mishra said.
As cases of Covid infections due to the new variant increase in England, there is a question mark over the severity of the illness. There are also concerns over how the B.1.1.7 strain has managed to acquire 17 mutations all at once within a short period of time, which according to European researchers has not happened with SARS-CoV-2 so far. The new mutation has also managed to raise questions over the efficacy of new vaccines over the new mutation of the coronavirus.
“We need to increase the process of sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 virus in India and actively search across the country. By conducting more sequencing, we have to ascertain whether the variant is present here or not. The sequencing must be taken up, especially of recently occurring Covid infections, which will help us understand and find if there are any new mutations in the country,” Dr Mishra said.
The top geneticist from CCMB pointed out that India already has a heavy burden of Covid-19 infections, when compared to countries like the UK. “After the United States, we have the largest number of Covid-19 infections. There is a possibility that there could be many more mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 within India itself. So, there is indeed a need for constant sequencing of the virus genomes and we plan to do that,” Dr Mishra said.
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