38 UK variant cases now; strain isolated, NIV to test vaccines

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By: Express News Service | New Delhi | January 5, 2021 5:16:17 am

Prof Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, gets the AstraZeneca vaccine in Oxford, UK, Monday. (Reuters)

The number of samples detected with the the new, more contagious strain of the novel coronavirus — the UK “variant under investigation” VUI-202012/01 — is now 38, the government said on Monday.

“All these persons (detected with the UK strain of the virus) have been kept in single room isolation in designated Health Care facilities by respective State Governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on,” the Union Health Ministry said in a statement issued on Monday.

This variant of SARS-CoV-2, first detected in Kent, England, has now reached over 30 countries around the world. The Ministry said that six labs have so far detected the UK strain during genome sequencing.

It has been detected in 11 samples at the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), New Delhi; 10 samples at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru; eight samples at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), New Delhi; five samples at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune; three samples at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad; and one sample at the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBG), Kalyani.

Significantly, NIV Pune has now successfully isolated and cultured the variant, with all signature changes from the clinical specimens collected from the UK returnees; and the research institute will be testing vaccines on the isolated virus strain.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) DG Prof Balram Bhargava had told The Indian Express on Sunday that the potential of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine candidate Covaxin to mount resistance against the new mutant strain was a key factor in the regulator granting it emergency approval.

“The new virus strain creating havoc in the UK is now present in 34 countries. Some of the vaccines are just targeting the spike protein of the virus, and these may not be effective. From that perspective, we are looking at the whole virus vaccine (Covaxin), which potentially may have benefits and this will be in our armamentarium,” Prof Bhargava had said.

The Health Ministry on Monday said the situation with regard to the UK variant is “under careful watch”, and that “regular advice is being provided to the States for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing & dispatch of samples to INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortium) labs”.

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