Do the reports of a decline in the number of coronavirus cases in India suggest it is time to celebrate? “No,” says Dr Amit Dutt, a scientist at the Advanced Centre for Treatment Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC) at the Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai.
Giving the example of Brazil, the UK, New Zealand and Spain that had experienced a prolonged lull in the past, were forced to shut down again due to the emergence of newer variants, newer mutants of the virus, he wrote in The Indian Express (TIE).
Should mutation worry us and why?
For one, there is already evidence of some mutations of this virus circulating in the country. As of now, these mutant strains have not been very dangerous, but that does not mean more dangerous variants will not emerge. Secondly, since we have not done enough genome sequencing in the Indian population, we cannot rule out the possibility of some undocumented mutations already circulating in India, TIE quoted the expert as saying.
Why have more genome sequences not been produced in India?
“This is one area where we have lagged behind. Given the size of the Indian population and the number of infection cases we have, we should ideally have done hundreds of thousands of genome sequences by now. But we seemed to have done barely about 6,000. Of that, about 50% were not available because they are not in the standard format or were still under processing. So, we had to rely only on about 3,300 samples that were available in the global database,” Dr Dutt was quoted as saying in TIE.
Why is it important to step up genome surveillance?
It is extremely important to step up the genomic surveillance to look out for newer variants of the novel coronavirus in India. Right now, we do not seem to be doing enough to identify viral variants. That is why the risk for the emergence of a new variant is very high. It is important that every such mutation is detected early, and infected people isolated. Quarantine methods are most effective at the early stage, Dr Dutt concluded.