AMU Covid-19 Strain Not New, Samples Have B16172 Variant, Says CSIR Report

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A double mutant variant is behind the surge in Covid-19 cases in and around Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which has led to the deaths of several retired and serving professors in the past few weeks.

The genome-sequencing of the samples sent by AMU to New Delhi's CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology revealed that it is not a new strain, but a double mutant variant of coronavirus, The Times of India reported.

At least 17 serving and 10 retired professors of the university have succumbed to Covid-19 in the past few weeks, sending shock waves across the campus.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had visited the campus on Thursday to take stock of the preparedness to prevent the virus spread.

Following the deaths, Vice-Chancellor Prof Tariq Mansoor had urged the ICMR on May 9 to investigate the coronavirus strains prevalent in and around the university to ascertain the reasons behind the rapid spread of the infection.

Professor Haris Manzoor Khan, chairman, department of microbiology and principal investigator, AMU's viral research and diagnostic laboratory, said that 90% of the samples sent for testing had the B16172 lineage, commonly known as the double mutant variant, which was first detected in Maharashtra last October.

He said that among the 20 samples sent for examination, 18 had B16172, which is a subtype of the main virus, B1617, circulating in the second wave of Covid-19 in the state.

The other two samples had B117 lineage which is 40-80% more transmissible than the SARS CoV-2 and was first detected in the UK, while another had the B1 lineage, which was responsible for the outbreaks last year, primarily in Italy, that later spread across the world.

In the wake of the series of deaths, the AMU administration has initiated active campaigns in the university to tackle the Covid-19 situation.

As part of the campaigns, the university has been aggressively mobilising for vaccination, laying emphasis on the importance of social distancing, washing of hands or sanitising them regularly and wearing face masks and going outdoors when absolutely necessary.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has termed B1617 a 'variant of concern' because of its higher transmissibility and reduced neutralisation from existing antibodies. The variant has a higher growth rate than other circulating variants, thereby potentially leading to increased rate of transmission.

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