New Delhi (NVI): In a significant development, the Centre has established Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a consortium of 10 regional government labs across the country to do genome sequencing of all Covid-19 positive flyers who arrived in India from December 9 to 22.
The step has been taken in the wake of reports of mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus reported from UK. The Government has taken cognizance of these reports and put in place a pro-active and preventive strategy to detect and contain the mutant variant, according to the Health Ministry.
Under the initiative, mandatory testing of all UK returnee air passengers is to be conducted through RT-PCR test. The samples of all UK returnees found positive in RT-PCR test are to be genome sequenced by the consortium.
While addressing a press briefing today, the Health Secretary said that prior to the news of the UK variant came in, roughly 5000 such genome sequences have been done in the country across these labs.
Pertinent to mention here that the new UK variant genome of SARS-Cov-2 virus has made its way into India, with six UK returnees testing positive for the new variant, according to the initial results of genome sequencing of positive samples released by INSACOG today.
The latest strategy by the Government to control the spread of the new Covid strain also includes the temporary suspension of all flights coming from the UK with effect from midnight of December 23 till December 31.
In this connection, a meeting of the National Task Force (NTF) on Covid-19 was conducted on December 26 to consider and recommend Testing, Treatment, Surveillance and Containment Strategy. Standard Operating Protocol for States/UTs to tackle the mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 have already been issued on December 22.
Regarding the mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus reported from the UK, the entire issue was examined at length by NTF on 26th December 2020 and the NTF concluded that there is no need to change either the existing National Treatment Protocol or existing Testing Protocols in view of the mutant variant, the Health Ministry said.
NTF also recommended that in addition to the existing surveillance strategy, it is critical to conduct enhanced genomic surveillance, it said.
The Ministry further informed that from November 25 to December 23 midnight, about 33,000 passengers disembarked at various Indian airports from the UK. All these passengers are being tracked and subjected by States/UTs to RT-PCR tests, it said.
So far, only 114 have been found positive. These positive samples have been sent to 10 INSACOG labs (NIBMG Kolkata, ILS Bhubaneswar, NIV Pune, CCS Pune, CCMB Hyderabad, CDFD Hyderabad, InSTEM Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, IGIB Delhi, NCDC Delhi) for genome sequencing.
Of the six samples of 6 UK returnee persons, who have been found positive with the mutant variant, three have been 3 sent in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, 2 in CCMB, Hyderabad and 1 in NIV, Pune.
All these persons have been kept in single room isolation in designated health care facilities by respective State Governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on, according to the Health Ministry.
The situation is under careful watch and regular advice is being provided to the States for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing & dispatch of samples to INSACOG labs.
“It is important to note that the presence of the new UK Variant has already been reported by Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore, so far,” the Ministry said in a statement.