Hyderabad: Till a month ago, public health officials and people were under the impression that the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 was a matter of the past, with the year 2021 to be all about accessing Covid vaccines and getting ahead of SARS-CoV-2.
However, within a few months of 2021, the entire country is experiencing a massive surge in Covid-19 infections. The rapid rise in new infections is now increasingly being linked to the emergence of new variants of SARS-CoV-2. The present strain of SARS-CoV-2 virus is somehow finding it easy to transmit, when compared to the strain of last year, senior doctors here point out.
Worldwide, there is widespread concern among genetic researchers and public health experts that there is too much focus on vaccination and little or no research on finding and learning about new strains of SARS-CoV-2 and their impact on the spread of new infections. Along with vaccines, they advocate strong public health measures to suppress the spread of new strains.
Recently, a team of eight researchers, members of the Lancet Covid-19 Commission Task Force on Public Health, wrote an open letter to governments of various countries to focus on new SARS-CoV-2 variants.
“New “variants of concern” have emerged and spread worldwide, putting current pandemic control efforts, including vaccination, at risk of being derailed. Put simply, the game has changed, and a successful global rollout of current vaccines by itself is no longer a guarantee of victory. We are in a race against time to get global transmission rates low enough to prevent the emergence and spread of new variants. The danger is that variants will arise that can overcome the immunity conferred by vaccinations or prior infection,” the Lancet researchers warned.
The Government of India has so far been quite steadfast in maintaining that new variants of SARs-CoV-2 are not behind the sudden surge of Covid infections. The Health Ministry has blamed lack of Covid appropriate behaviour on part of the community for the present situation.
However, the fact also remains that the country has sequenced less than 1 per cent of the Covid-19 samples in the last few months. It was in December that the Union government set up India SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) comprising top genetic research institutes including CCMB and CDFD from Hyderabad, with the aim of conducting genetic sequencing of at least five per cent of Covid-19 samples in India.
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