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New Delhi: Moving a step ahead towards finding a vaccine for Covid-19, India has become the fifth country to successfully isolate the virus strain after Japan, Thailand, United States of America and China.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex health research body of India, said that isolation of the virus is the first step towards expediting the development of drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits in the country.

Scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune have isolated 11 strains of the Covid-19. Still, they will need between 18 months and two years to develop a Covid-19 vaccine even if the clinical trials are expedited, the government said.

“Coronavirus was very difficult to isolate but the scientists at NIV Pune have been successful in getting around 11 strains isolated. The strains are the prerequisite for conducting any research related to viruses," said Raman R. Gangakhedkar, head of the epidemiology and communicable diseases division of the Indian Council of Medical Research.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no vaccine to cure Covid-19. China has used HIV drugs on some Covid-19 patients but that has to be studied for efficacy. “We have not used any anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs on the seven patients that have recovered. We have only used routine medicines to treat those patients," ICMR scientist Raman R. Gangakhedkar.

Even as a combination of anti-HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir were used on a coronavirus-infected elderly Italian couple at a Jaipur, doctors have said that no conclusion should be drawn with a single patient experiment.

ICMR has also been closely working with the Ministry of Health and family welfare, and other departments to coordinate the effort to tackle Covid-19. Till date, ICMR has tested more than 6,500 samples of 5,900 individuals, out of which 83 cases have been tested positive for the virus.

ICMR, which is also the testing agency for the virus, has expanded its network of labs equipped to test Covid-19 from 51 to 65. The secondary test for reconfirmation of the virus, which was earlier conducted only in National Institute of Virology (NIV) have also been expanded to 31 labs. These steps will enable India to expedite detection of the virus and will help in effective management.

“ICMR is equipped to handle more volumes of samples if the need arises. People should not panic, but take precautionary measures. Strong systems and processes are in place to deal with Covid-19 and the Ministry is constantly monitoring the situation," Professor Balram Bhargava, Secretary, Department of Health Research and Director General, ICMR, said.

On 31 December 2019, WHO was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) was identified as the causative virus by Chinese authorities on 7 January. As part of WHO’s response to the outbreak, the R&D blueprint has been activated to accelerate diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics for this novel coronavirus. The WHO recently advised countries on how to prevent the spread of disease and care for those who are sick. The apex health agency also said that it is strengthening lab capacity all over the world along with training thousands of health workers.

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