Double Mutant Found in 61% Samples Tested in Maha, Officials Say Variant Likely Behind Second Wave

220 out of 361 or 61 percent of the Covid-19 samples taken in Maharashtra from January to March and genome sequenced had the double mutation E484Q and L452R, now classified as B.1.617 lineage, the data shared by the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, shows.

The central government had announced detections of mutant variant in 15-20% of the samples in Maharashtra, however it didn’t link the variant with the second surge in the state, a report in The Indian Express said.

NIV officials in a meeting on April 10 made a presentation to all the all district heads of government laboratories. The genome sequencing results were shared in the presentation, but officials said the state government is yet to receive a written report on this. “It has been communicated to us only verbally,” said an official.

Health Minister Rajesh Tope reportedly said the state government had asked the Centre for a detailed report on the genome sequencing of all the Maharashtra samples.

The state health officials say that the double variant could be the reason behind the second wave in Maharashtra. The state has seen huge surge of Covid cases with over 50,000 cases being reported daily in the state with around 5.6 lakh active cases.

Officials said that they had repeatedly asked the Centre if the mutation was of concern or whether a different strategy needs to be adopted with the mutant. “The Centre has maintained that there is no need to change the strategy,” Maharashtra Health Secretary Dr Pradeep Vyas reportedly said.

However, other officials say that the surge in the state couldn’t be directly linked to the mutant. “It is a variant of interest now. But the number of samples are very few from these districts and therefore we cannot directly conclude that the surge is caused by the variant,” Dr Sujeet Singh, Director, National Centre for Disease Control said. He added that that B.1.617 lineage were also found in few samples in Delhi too.

The NIC data shows that in January the the double mutant variant B.1.617 first appeared in three samples in Akola and one sample in Thane. Later it was noted in 13 districts, including Akola, Amravati, Bhandara, Hingoli, Gondia, Chandrapur, Nagpur, Pune, Wardha and Yavatmal.

In March, in samples sequenced from Aurangabad, Mumbai, Jalna, Palghar, Nanded, two to 14 carried this variant.

Experts and health officials in Maharashtra say that the variant is fast spreading putting a strain on the health system. “It is critical to have genome sequencing results as soon as possible, if possible within three days. The pattern of the new variants is unpredictable,” Dr Om Srivastava member of the State Covid Task Force said.

India is sequencing less than 1% of Covid-19 samples. Maharashtra officials on the other hand said genome sequencing data would also help drive the containment strategy.

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