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The network of government scientists and labs responsible for genome-sequencing strains of the covid-19 virus may meet as early as this week to discuss the threat posed by a variant that is behind the recent surge in infections in China.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) will discuss the situation with the fast-mutating and virulent Omicron variant BF.7 in India.

Officials from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), National Technical Group of Immunization (NTAGI), Indian Council Medical Research (ICMR), National Institute Virology (NIV-Pune) and health ministry will participate in the meeting to review and analyze the trend of BF.7 in terms of hospitalization and deaths.

Indian scientists are concerned that while India is showing a declining trend in new covid cases, the emergence of the new Omicron mutant may dilute all gains that the country has achieved so far.

“INSACOG was supposed to meet on Monday; however, the meeting did not happen. Now the experts from INSACOG may hold a meeting anytime this week to discuss the trend of covid cases in India and with respect to the emergence of BF.7 and strategies on it," said an official aware of the matter.

“As of now, nothing exciting is going to happen given that the country is reporting less than 2,000 covid cases and few fatalities. Yes, of course, festivals are coming in a few days, and we need to act smart and cautious."

INSACOG is a consortium of 54 laboratories to monitor the genomic variations in SARS-CoV-2.

Recently, Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre reported the first case of BF.7—the Omicron sub-variant that could pose a threat to the Indian population once again.

“BF.7 is a new variant of covid and has led to a surge of covid cases in China. It has been recently reported from India. In our OPDs, the positivity rate for covid is low despite a surge in patients with fever, nasal symptoms and cough.

“However, we have to monitor any change in symptoms occurring in patients. At this stage, people have stopped using masks, but it’s important to take a booster dose and follow government guidelines. It’s good practice to wear masks, for at least those who are immunocompromised and suffering from respiratory problems," said Dr Neetu Jain, senior consultant at the pulmonary and critical care department at PSRI Hospital in New Delhi.

India has reported 2,060 covid cases in the last 24 hours, and active cases rose to 26,834, health ministry data showed on Monday. Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, India has reported more than 44.6 million covid cases and 528,905 deaths.

According to INSACOG, Omicron and its sub-lineages continue to be the dominant variant in India.

The country has reported different distributions of ‘Variants of Concern’ such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, B.1.6 series, AY series, Omicron Series, XE, XM and XJ since the onset of the pandemic.

Queries sent to the Union health ministry did not elicit a response.

Commenting on the fresh surge in China, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director WHO South-East Asia said, “The virus is still circulating and the risk of new variants emerging and causing surge in cases, remains."

“We have also seen that when public health and social measures are followed, we deny the virus an opportunity to spread," she added.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priyanka Sharma

Priyanka Shamra is a health and pharma journalist with nearly nine years of field reporting experience. She is a special correspondent with Mint. Her beat includes covering the Ministry of Health and Department of Pharmaceuticals. She also covers the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Department of Biotechnology.
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