New Covid Variant is on Surge, But “No Alarming Severity”
NEW DELHI, Mar 20: The experts have confirmed that a newly detected variant of Covid virus is pushing up the current surge in cases across the country. The experts, however, also comforted stating that there was no “alarming severity” reported so far from the new variant.
“The new variant XBB1.16 was currently being monitored,” Dr. Saumitra Das, the co-chair of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG)(scientific and clinical advisory group), said. “We don’t have enough data right now to understand this fully but we need to keep our guards up and mask on,’” he added.
Covid XBB1.16 was identified first in January this year. INSACOG is the forum set up under the Health Ministry on December 30, 2020, to study and monitor genome sequencing and virus variation of circulating strains of COVID-19 in India.
Speaking about the latest variant Dr. Das said with the natural immunity and vaccination cover that most Indians currently have, it is certain that new variants will not have a free run. “But we can’t rule out the virus’ ability to evade this cover either. Also, with the several viral diseases in circulation, we have seen that with COVID load, the condition of the patients can be adversely impacted,” he said.
According to the figures, a maximum number of active COVID cases have been reported from Kerala, Maharashtra, and Gujarat till now. The Centre has advised the three States, and their neighbours Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, to follow a strategy of test, track, treat and vaccinate as they witness a rise in cases. Dr. Vinod Scaria, a genomics researcher at CSIR-Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), said the mutation in the spike of XBB1.16 is largely involved in immune escape. “So it could evade pre-existing antibodies (from previous infection/vaccine),” he said.
“Other mutations are in open reading frame (ORF) gene, the real function of which we don’t really know,” he added.
Open reading frame is a surrogate name for gene in lower organisms.