Uptick in cases in 5 states cannot be linked to these variants as of now, said NITI Aayog member VK Paul
Two new variants of the novel coronavirus — other than the Brazilian, United Kingdom and South African — have been confirmed in India, Union government officials said in a press meet February 23, 2021.
The variant N440K has been found in Maharashtra; E484K has been found in Kerala, Telangana and Maharashtra, according to VK Paul, member of health, Niti Aayog. The news has come in the backdrop of Maharashtra and Kerala reporting an upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
Paul, however, added that the uptick in cases could not be linked to these variants as of now, though he did not rule out such a 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.
Paul added that the variants in question were found in India in March and July 2020 as well, but were not linked to rise in cases at that time.
Down To Earth had reported earlier on a paper published in bioRxiv in December 2020 stating that India had reported as many as 19 variants that could beat the immune response.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director-General Balram Bhargava refused to call them ‘Indian variants’, saying they had been found in other countries as well.
Insofar as cases of other foreign variants are concerned, Paul said 187 cases of the UK variant, six of the South African one and one of the Brazilian variant had been found in India.
He 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.
So why the upsurge in cases?
The central teams sent to Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir — the five states that reported a surge in cases — are examining whether a slack in adherence to COVID-19-appropriate behaviour or a super-spreading event aided the development.
“The teams sent by the Centre also include epidemiologists and other public health specialists. They are looking into all possible factors in play,” Union health ministry secretary, Rajesh Bhushan, said.
Apart from Jammu and Kashmir, the other four states have registered a clear uptick in the number of cases after recording a decline till the second week of February. The cases have started to rise in J&K as well, but the increase in cases is stagnant.
Maharashtra and Kerala had been accounting for more than 75 per cent of overall active caseload of the country, as of February 23.
On being asked if any cap would be imposed on the number of people attending political gatherings in the wake of upcoming assembly elections in several Indian states, Bhushan did not say anything. The Union home ministry issues Standard Operating Procedures from time to time as and when needed, he added.
A meeting at the Prime Minister’s office also took place February 23 evening to take a stock of the situation.
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