35 people found with U.K. strain in Capital

Genome sequencing to find other mutations yet to begin

Thirty-five people who returned from the U.K., and their contacts, were detected with the U.K. strain of COVID-19 in the city, a Delhi government official has told The Hindu. Also, 988 random samples from the city have been sent for genome sequencing to find if any of them have the U.K. strain.

But the Delhi government has not started checking for other mutant strains of the virus, which was found in Maharashtra and other parts of the country, officials said.

“A total of 216 people, who returned from the U.K., and their contacts had tested positive for the virus and 247 samples from these people were sent to find if any of them had the U.K. strain. Thirty-five of them were found to have the U.K. strain. Most of them have been discharged from hospitals after they recovered,” the official said.

These samples were taken from November 25 to December 23, before flights from the U.K. were stopped temporarily. “About 15 days ago, the government also sent 988 random samples, which had been collected during the same period and had tested positive, for genome sequencing to check if the U.K. strain was circulating in the city. The results of about 25 samples have come and they are negative. The rest of the results are awaited,” the official added.

Identifying mutation

Most of these samples have been sent to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). “Genome sequencing helps identify the mutations to a virus and the meanings of it. It tells you how the virus is moving in the population and geography, whether the vaccine will work against the mutation or not, and many other things. More density and targeted genome sequencing should be done to get more information about the virus and prepare better against it,” said N.K. Ganguly, former Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

On Sunday, the Centre told States to regularly monitor for mutant strains through testing followed by genome sequencing as well as monitoring of the emerging cluster of cases. Following this, the Delhi government has reiterated all private and government labs, which are doing COVID-19 tests, to preserve samples of positive tests so that genome sequencing can be done if needed.

Though Lt. Governor Anil Baijal said on Monday that directions have been given to adopt “genome sequencing strategy”, it has not yet started, according to officials. “The U.K. does the highest number of genome sequencing and they are finding different mutations and alerting the world. India doesn’t do enough genome sequencing,” Mr. Ganguly added.

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