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As COVID-19 cases surge, vaccine drive to be focused more on domestic needs

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New Delhi, Mar 25: Following a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, India would focus on its domestic vaccination and the expansion of the immunisation drive. There would be no expansion of vaccine exports.

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    As COVID-19 cases surge, vaccine drive to be focused more on domestic needs

    Citing sources, a HT report said that the there will be no ban on exports, though supplies to other countries will be made after meeting domestic needs. The government's priority will be the vaccination of the country's population. The government will review the situation related to exports as the country's vaccine production increases and emergency use authorisations are granted for more vaccines.

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    This comes in the wake of a new "double mutant variant" of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in Delhi, Maharashtra and some other places in addition to the three "variants of concern" -- first noticed in the UK, South Africa and Brazil -- that have been found in at least 18 states and union territories, the Union Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

    The ministry, however, said it could not be sufficiently established yet if these variants were behind the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in some states.

    National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Director S K Singh on Wednesday said that 771 cases of variants of concern (VOCs) have been detected in a total of 10,787 positive samples in 18 states and UTs which include 736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage.

    Also, 34 samples were found positive for viruses of the South African (B.1.351) lineage and one sample for the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.

    In addition to these, some other variants, including the double mutant one, have been found in some states and UTs such as Maharashtra and Delhi and need to be further analysed and investigated for establishing any epidemiological correlations.

    Genomic sequencing by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyse the situation.

    There are only three variants of concern, detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, he clarified.

    "Till now no linkage has been established to say that the surge that we are seeing in different states is directly because of only mutations," he said.

    There are various reasons behind a surge.

    States having a larger pool of susceptible population are prone to witness rise in cases. Whenever the susceptible population will lower their guard and not follow COVID-19-appropriate behaviour, they will get the infection, be it the normal virus or the mutants, he said.

    "Currently, the SARS-CoV-2 variants detected in the community have been prevalent for last 6-8 months and they are distributed in over 70 districts of our country.... Various states that are witnessing surges in cases have revealed different mutation profile, post-sequencing," Singh said at a press conference here.

    The Ministry of Health had established on December 25 INSACOG which is a grouping of 10 national laboratories for carrying out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating COVID-19 viruses, and correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants.

    Genomic variants of various viruses are a natural phenomenon and are found in almost all countries, the ministry highlighted.

    Genome sequencing and analysis have been carried out on samples from arriving international travellers, contacts of those positive for VOC and community samples from most of the states at INSACOG partner laboratories, it stated.

    The analysis of samples from Maharashtra has revealed that compared to December 2020, there has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations, the ministry said.

    Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity. These mutations have been found in about 15-20 per cent of samples and do not match any previously catalogued VOCs, the ministry said.

    "These have been categorized as VOCs but require the same epidemiological and public health response of increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases and contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol by the states and UTs," the ministry stated.

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    From Kerala, 2,032 samples (from all 14 districts) have been sequenced. The N440K variant that is associated with immune escape has been found in 123 samples from 11 districts.

    This variant was earlier found in 33 per cent of samples from Andhra Pradesh, and in 53 of 104 samples from Telangana.

    This variant has also been reported from 16 other countries, including the UK, Denmark, Singapore, Japan and Australia.

    "As of now these can be at best said to be variants under investigation," the ministry said.

    "Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States," the ministry said.

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