BENGALURU: Deputy Chief Minister and Covid-19 Task Force chairman Dr CN Ashwath Narayan acknowledged that genome sequencing is the key to identifying new strains and also to contain the pandemic. Several private players and agencies have agreed to fund more sequencing in the state. With Bengaluru being a technology hub, he spoke about how integrated softwares, telecom policies are being planned to manage the pandemic situation in the state.
The Delta and Delta-plus variants have become a cause for concern. What is the brief Karnataka has got from the Union Health Ministry on handling the situation now?
The spread of the Delta variant is localised as of now. The Central Health Ministry, through ICMR, is analyzing the variant’s resistance to existing Covid vaccines. Studies are also under way about the variant’s immune escape capabilities and its ability to transmit infections more aggressively.
States where Delta-plus variants have been detected were told to be careful as we are all unlocking in phases. But, as of now, there is no concern as both the patients who tested positive for the variant are recovering well.
Has the treatment and containment protocol changed after the emergence of the new variants in Karnataka?
We are pursuing our unlock plans, and we have not changed the treatment protocol. We have asked our doctors to monitor unnecessary prescription of steroids.
What is the progress in terms of genome sequencing in the state?
A lot. Other than the already existing NIMHANS and NCBS, we are setting up six genomic sequencing labs in the state. We are training microbiologists and qualified experts for this. A dashboard is being set up to integrate data from INSACOG, Arogya Setu, Co-Win and eVIN, which is the vaccine supply chain management.
There have been complaints about INSACOG labs sequencing very few samples. We have two labs in Bengaluru and our sampling has been less. What is being done to speed up the sequencing? What about the fund crunch?
We have constituted the Genomic Surveillance Committee. There is a need for ramping up the technology and workforce for better genomic surveillance. We need to sequence at least 5 pc of samples. The Rockefeller Foundation of India, CSR Funds, Central and State Government funds will soon be invested in genome sequencing.
Is there discussion or possibility of involving private players/labs in genome sequencing?
It is too early for us to talk about this. But we already have Strand Life Sciences as part of our genome sequencing committee. We will be collaborating with other major private players too soon.
Why did Karnataka fail to implement early restrictions when cases were surging in Maharashtra in the second wave?
We had contained the first wave satisfactorily. This gave us the confidence of managing the second wave. However, the virus spread quickly. The incubation period was less and we faced challenges in setting up health infrastructure. But I can confidently say that we have done better than any other state.
The Delta-plus are increasing in neighbouring states, possibly triggering a third wave. What is being done to contain it?
We are aggressively implementing our vaccination drive. We have constituted an expert committee to recommend measures to control the third wave, increase healthcare infrastructure in government hospitals across districts, and ramp up manpower by training youth as healthcare technicians and workers. We are setting up Genomic Sequencing Labs and taking measures swiftly. There will surely be challenges as we don’t know how the virus will behave. With the help of healthcare, integrated portals and technology, we should be able to manage it well.
The CM had announced Gagandeep Kang as part of the task force to ramp up vaccination drives. Has she given any suggestions? Are there any specific strategies planned?
Yes. She is giving her inputs on how to strategize and ensure that the vaccination process is speeded up. Due to procurement delays, we are kind of going slow, but we will soon be ramping it up. With the help of the private sector, we must see a good number of people vaccinated by August.
Amidst the second wave of COVID-19, students who wish to study abroad are finding it difficult to firm up their plans…
We have gone 10 steps ahead and helped students in whatever way we could. Issuing of vaccine certificates and problems around that have also been solved. There is no reason why students should feel insecure. Every problem of theirs is being addressed and we are open to hearing their concerns. I only urge more students to come forward to get themselves vaccinated.
When do you plan to reopen offline classes for college students?
We have not yet decided on a date. But right now, vaccinating them is the priority. We want to do a special drive and 20 lakh vaccines have been earmarked for college students. So, once the first dose is administered, we will decide on calling them to colleges. It will be mostly by August.
There is some buzz that there are coordination issues between you and Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar. Do you agree?
There is nothing of that sort. In fact, it is better managed now. When new committees are formed, there will obviously be some kind of unrest. But, earlier, for every issue the Health Minister had to get it approved by the CM. Now, we have a decision-making cabinet sub-committee, so there is absolutely no issue as all stakeholders come together and decisions can be taken quickly.