There is no direct relation between the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra and some other states, and the mutant virus strains — N440K and E484Q — of SARS-CoV-2, the Centre said on Tuesday. Addressing a press conference, NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said that 187 people have tested positive for the UK strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the country so far, while six have been detected with the South Africa variant. Also, one person has been detected with the Brazil variant so far.

“Also, the N440K and E484Q variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been detected in Maharashtra, Kerala and Telangana. Also, three other mutated strains — one each from the UK, South Africa and Brazil are already present in the country. But there is no reason for us to believe presently, on the basis of scientific information, that they are responsible for the upsurge of the outbreak in some districts of Maharashtra and Kerala,” Paul said.

Two states, Kerala and Maharashtra, account for 75 per cent of total active COVID-19 cases in the country. Reporting the only detection does not lead to any attribution for a phenomenon on the ground because to relate the occurrence of a virus mutation to change in disease pattern, other epidemiological information and clinical information has to be linked to these mutants, Paul said, adding because otherwise these (mutations) keep happening but they have no influence on the pandemic. He said the behaviour of mutations is being constantly and closely watched in the country and 3,500 samples have been sequenced so far.

“When we are doing sequencing, we are looking for any abnormal shift in the virus character. We have been watching mutants. Today, based on the information and as analyzed and understood by a very eminent scientific advisory group of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), we would like to underline the fact that we do not see attribution of mutant strains to the upsurge of the infection being seen in some districts. But this is a work in progress. We will continue to watch the situation with full responsibility,” Paul said.

The INSACOG was established in December end for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the country. Stating that a large proportion of the population is still vulnerable, Paul stressed that COVID appropriate behaviour like wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, hand washing and not going to mass gatherings should be followed.

“There is no direct relation between the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra and some other states with the mutant virus strains N440K and E484Q,” stated Dr Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR. He further clarified that these two virus strains have been detected in other countries too and are not specific to India. Moreover, they have been found earlier in some states in India.

The E484Q strain was earlier detected in four sequences in Maharashtra as early as March and July 2020. The N440K mutation has been reported on 13 different occasions between May and September 2020 in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. The current upsurge in Maharashtra cannot be attributed to the currently discussed point mutations, he said. However, as further scientific evidence emerges, it shall be duly shared, he added.

The Health Ministry has sent central teams to some states and will be sending teams to some more states which have shown a surge in COVID cases recently, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said. Maharashtra, he said is showing a daily surge in COVID-19 cases. Kerala is showing an incremental decline, but the daily cases in absolute numbers are still high over there. Punjab, with its daily increase in cases, is also a cause of worry.

Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are also showing an increase in daily cases. Jammu and Kashmir had a sudden spike and then showed a reduction in the number of daily cases. A central team of epidemiologists and public health experts will also visit Jammu and Kashmir, Bhushan said. These central teams analyse the reasons for the spike in cases and then hold discussions with the chief secretary and health secretary of the visited states to share their findings and advise on the steps to be taken to contain this surge.

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