Blow To India's Covid Genome Sequencing Efforts, 5 Labs Shut: Sources

Five labs - part of Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium, a network of 38 tasked with genome sequencing - have closed due to a lack of funds.

Genome sequencing is the only way to identify known variants of the coronavirus (Representational)

Highlights

  • The 5 labs were part of INSACOG, or Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium
  • Earlier this month, PM Modi had underlined genome sequencing's importance
  • Overall, genome sequencing is down about 40% compared to the last month
New Delhi:

Delays in genome sequencing samples from Covid patients - to identify the strain of virus in each case - is due to a lack of funds for chemical reagents, top Health Ministry sources have told NDTV.

Five labs across the country - part of INSACOG, or the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium, a network of 38 tasked with genome sequencing - have closed because of this, sources said.

Sources also said this lack of reagents - which is a substance added to the sample to cause a chemical reaction - is becoming a problem as the government tries to identify cases of the more infectious Omicron strain so it can isolate and contain the virus.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the importance of genome sequencing at a meeting to review the Covid situation in the country.

"There is a need for continuous scientific research... including genome sequencing, given that the virus is evolving continuously," the Prime Minister told Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, and senior government officials.

Overall, however, sequencing is down about 40 per cent compared to last month, and only an estimated 25,000 genomes have been sequenced since the more infectious Omicron strain, which is widely believed to be driving the third wave of infections in India, was first reported in November.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than 1.6 lakh samples have been sequenced.

In December the government admitted it is not possible to carry out genome sequencing for every COVID-19 sample; Dr VK Paul, head of India's Covid task force, told reporters "sufficient systematic sampling is being undertaken" to ensure its use as a "surveillance and tracking tool".

Similar acknowledgements have been made by state governments, including Maharashtra, which reported a massive spike in cases during the third wave. State Health Minister Rajesh Tope told NDTV it was more important to treat patients than identifying the variants of coronavirus.

Genome sequencing is the process of determining fully (or almost fully) the DNA sequence of an organism's genome, or its complete genetic information, at a single point in time.

It is the only way to definitively identify the several known variants of the coronavirus, and is also critical in monitoring the biological evolution of the novel coronavirus.

This morning India reported over three lakh cases in 24 hour for the first time since May. These included over 2,700 new Omicron Covid cases.

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