NEW DELHI: Nearly 50% of the Covid samples undergoing whole genome sequencing are now showing double mutation, strongly pointing to its role in the current avalanche of infections, The New Indian Express has learnt.
On February 4, the proportion of samples with double mutation -- B.1.617—E484Q and L452R together -- in Maharashtra stood at just 3.4% but had grown to over 23% on March 4 and has been rapidly growing ever since.
The B.1.617 variant of coronavirus has also been found in samples from eight states but the proportion is much smaller than that of Maharashtra, which has been reporting over 60,000 cases daily for the past several days.
Overall, the country is recording over 7% growth in active cases which has now crossed the 16 lakh mark and at least 12 states in India are reporting an explosive surge in daily cases.
Data from other countries suggest that while E484Q can escape antibody neutralisation, L452R is known to increase infectivity and has been linked to a cluster of infections in many parts of the US earlier
The Union ministry of health and family welfare and the agencies under it have been maintaining that there is no epidemiological link yet established between the detection of the mutant and the ongoing second wave.
“It is increasingly becoming clear that this double mutant virus may be behind the surge in cases,” said a scientist attached with the sequencing project.
Another scientist said that signals of locally dominant mutations driving outbreaks -- N440 in Kerala and B.1.618 in West Bengal—have also been noted.
The ministry however has steered clear of saying so publicly. On Friday, it released a statement on the government’s genome sequencing efforts and said that of over 13, 614 samples of Covid virus whose whole genomic sequencing have been carried out, 1,189 samples have tested positive for variants of concern. It also pulled up three states--Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh--for not sharing clinical data of patients that can be used for epidemiological studies in the context of mutation.
A VOC is a variant with some potential public health implications like the VOCs from the UK, Brazil and South Africa.
The Centre in December had formed a genomic surveillance consortium -- INSACOG -- of 10 institutes under the NCDC to work on genome sequencing of virus samples from various parts of the country amid concern over detection of the UK variant in India.
Details of the findings carried out through the surveillance exercise, however, have remained unavailable to the public while the Centre has issued information in bits and pieces.
In another statement on Union health minister Harsh Vardhan’s review meeting of 11 surge states, the ministry, for example, said on Saturday: “double mutant strain in Maharashtra was a key point of concern.” It however did not clearly say that the variant was linked to the massive spike in cases.