Mutant virus: Centre to step up genomic surveillance

Covid-19: Centre forms genomic surveillance consortium; task force says no change in treatment protocol

The genomic surveillance consortium, INSACOG, has been formed under the leadership of the National Centre for Disease Control

The Centre has also stepped up community surveillance by tracking all the passengers who have arrived from the UK between November 25 and December 20

The National Task Force on Covid-19 on Saturday decided there would be no change in the treatment protocol for the infectious disease, but decided to step up genomic surveillance to detect the mutant virus, specially in passengers coming from the UK.

The National Task Force (NTF) has also recommended whole genome sequencing of 5% of the positive cases from all states and union territories to identify the mutant virus that has been reported in the UK.

“A genomic surveillance consortium, INSACOG, has been formed under the leadership of NCDC, New Delhi, for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the country,” an official statement said.

The Health Ministry said more than 50 samples of returnees from the UK were currently undergoing whole genome sequencing at designated laboratories across the country.

The genome sequencing would determine if the Covid-19 positive patients were carrying the existing strain of SARS-CoV-2 or the mutant strain discovered in the UK.

The Centre has also stepped up community surveillance by tracking all the passengers who have arrived from the UK between November 25 and December 20 with directions to send all positive samples for whole genome sequencing.

“List of all UK arrivals during the last 28 days has been shared by the Bureau of Immigration with the concerned states,” it said.

However, it said that like all RNA viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 would continue to mutate and the new variant can be contained by measures such as social distancing, hand hygiene, wearing masks and also by effective vaccine, as and when available.

The NTF also concluded that there was no need to change the existing treatment protocol in view of the mutations emerging in the strain.

Since the ICMR has always advocated the use of two or more gene assays for testing SARS-CoV-2, it is unlikely to miss infected cases using the current testing strategy, the ministry said.

The NTF noted that the new variant strain has 14 non-synonymous (amino acid altering) mutations, six synonymous (non amino-acid altering), and three deletions. Eight mutations were present in the Spike (S) gene which carries the binding site (Receptor Binding Domain) of the ACE2 receptors, which are the point of entry of the virus into the human respiratory cells.