The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday, 23 February, confirmed the detection of two new variants of novel coronavirus, other than the Brazilian, UK and South African, in at least three Indian states.
The variants, AN440K and E484Q have been found circulating in a few districts of Maharashtra, Kerala and Telangana, it said.
The ministry's confirmation comes against the backdrop of Maharashtra and Kerala reporting an upsurge in COVID-19 cases, and both states accounting for more than 75 percent of overall active caseload of the country, as of Tuesday.
"The genome sequencing of positive patients has confirmed two variants which are detected in a larger number other than the one dominating in the country. They are found circulating in Maharashtra, Kerala and Telangana," Dr V.K. Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog and head, National Task Force on Covid-19, said.
No Link Between Variants and Outbreak
While Paul said that no causal link between them and the outbreak in the two states have been established so far, he did not rule out the possibility in future.
“This is a work in progress,” he said, adding that the transmissibility and tendency to cause a more severe disease, thereby leading to an increase in deaths, by these variants is being studied.
"So far, the variants cannot be attributed to the uptick of the infection a few states have been witnessing in the country. There is no current evidence for us to believe that these are responsible for upsurge of the outbreak in some of the districts of Maharashtra and Kerala despite being found there," Paul said.
Indian Council for Medical Research Director General, Dr Balram Bhargava, also clarified that these two virus strains have been detected in other countries as well and are not specific to India.
"Moreover, they have been found earlier in some states in India. The E484Q strain was earlier detected in four sequences in Maharashtra as early as March and July 2020. The N440K mutation has been reported on 13 different occasions between May and September 2020 in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. The current upsurge in Maharashtra cannot be attributed to the currently discussed point mutations," he added.
Paul assured that the government is constantly monitoring the behaviour of the mutations in the country and all over the world too.
Number of People Infected by South African Variant Rises to 6
Meanwhile, the ministry said that the count of people infected from the South African variant has risen to six, against four last week. However, the number of patients infected by the UK and Brazil variants has not changed in the duration. The tally of patients infected from imported variants of novel coronavirus has reached 194 in the country.
Last week, the Indian Council of Medical Research found as many as 192 cases of COVID-19 affected by the new variants of mutated SARS-CoV-2 in the last two months including four from the variant that emerged in South Africa and one from Brazil variant of the virus. The remaining 187 were found infected by the UK variant.
Meanwhile, the ministry did not specify the states that reported cases with these foreign variants. While the UK variant is known to spread faster, the South African one is associated with a high severity of disease.
The ministry said that the situation is being constantly monitored. "As further scientific evidence emerges, it shall be duly shared," it added.
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