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Formation of genomic surveillance consortium in India for addressing the new COVID-19 strain

The Centre stated on Saturday that a genomic surveillance consortium has been formed in response to the wake of a mutated variant of coronavirus found in the U.K. The consortium was formed for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of circulating strains of the SARS-CoV-2 in India.

Formation of the Consortium

It was under the leadership of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), New Delhi that the genomic surveillance consortium, INSACOG, has been formed. The designed laboratory currently has more than 50 samples of U.K. returnees under sequencing. The strategy that has been put to place for containing and detecting the mutant virus will have Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) as a part of the strategy that will test five per cent of the COVID-19 positive cases from all UTs and states. The same has been said by the Union health minister after a meeting of the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19 on the issue.

The ministry stated that genomic surveillance has been proposed for enhancement for containment and early detection of the variant strains of SARS-CoV-2 found in the U.K. However, SARS-CoV-2 will continue to mutate like all other RNA viruses. The ministry also mentioned that measures like wearing masks, social distancing, effective vaccine when available, and social distance can use for containing the mutated virus.

Meeting of the NTF

ICMR convened the National Task Force meeting on Saturday under the co-chairpersonship of Dr Vinod Paul, Member NITI Aayog and Dr Balram Bhargava, Secretary, Director General ICMR. Discussing evidence-based modifications in surveillance strategies, testing, and treatment for SARS-CoV-2 was the main objective of the meeting concerning the emergence of new variant strain reports of the virus from the U.K. The statement stated that it is critical for identifying individuals infected by the strain and containing them adequately for its preventing its transmission in India since the new variant strain is implied to have cause increase transmissibility of the virus.

Testing of the U.K. returnees

Reports of mutant variant along with the response of other countries to these reports have also been taken cognizance by the Centre as reported by NCDC. There is the proactive monitoring of the situation also. The test has been done in the airports only for all the passengers who have to arrive from the U.K. between December 21 and 23. The negative passengers are permitted for exiting the airports only after the availability of the test result of the PCR. Institutional isolation has been put for all the positively tested passengers and their samples are sent for Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS).

The positive cases are permitted to leave institutional isolation according to the protocol of the existing management only after the confirmation of the non-mutant variant upon the result of the WGS. The positive cases contacts are also tested according to the guidelines of the ICMR and put under quarantine facility. The Bureau of Immigration has also shared the list of all the U.K. arrivals during the last 28 days with the concerned states. IDSP State Surveillance Units (SSUs) and District Surveillance Units (DSUs) is being used for tracking of passengers who have arrived from the U.K. between 25th November to 20th December.