Why Are Maharashtra Cases Climbing? An Expert's Warning

The scientists, Dr TP Lahane said, are doing gene sequencing for this and the results will be available in 10 to 15 days.

The mutations are detected as Maharashtra is witnessing a surge in cases (File)

Mumbai:

Several cases of coronavirus mutation have been observed in Maharashtra, a senior scientist told NDTV today, underscoring that they are yet to observe behaviour - including how fast or slow it infects people -- and pointed out that it is "too early to call it a strain".

Dr TP Lahane, the Director of Medical Education and Research, Maharashtra, told NDTV that it is early days yet and more sequencing and study needs to be carried out to know about the "infectiveness" of the mutant variety.

The scientists, he said, are doing gene sequencing for this and the results will be available in 10 to 15 days. A detailed study has to be conducted, he said.

The mutations are detected as Maharashtra - which saw the maximum number of Covid cases and deaths in the country - is witnessing a surge in cases after a two-month lull. Maharashtra logged more than 5000 cases on Thursday -- a new high after a gap of 75 days. Mumbai recorded more than 700 cases for a second straight day, pushing the authorities to issue fresh restrictions.

Pointing out that there much laxity lately when it comes to observing safety measures, Dr Lahane told NDTV, "I think the spike is because of this and not because it is a new strain and it is too early to say that it is a new strain."

The sequencing tests were conducted in Amaravati, Akola and Yavatmal districts of the state. The mutations have been found in three samples in Amaravati, three in Yavatmal and two in Akola. The results came in on Tuesday, amid the country's efforts to counter the new strains of virus that have come from abroad.

So far, the South African strain of the virus has been detected in four people and the Brazil variant seen in one, the Indian Council of Medical Research -- the nodal body in the country's battle against coronavirus -- has said. There are 187 cases of the UK strain.

The results of the sequencing, Dr Lahane said, came out on Tuesday and the tests were started 15 days before. "It takes near about eight to 10 days to do the sequencing and in that, we have seen a change in sequence of the spike protein," he told NDTV.

Asked if this feature was not consistent with the UK strain of the virus, he said, "You can say a few things are consistent with the United Kingdom (strain), but it is not an actual United Kingdom variety".

"It is some different mutation that we have seen in the cases in the three districts, and for that (to figure out its characteristics) we have to do more sequencing," he said.

The scientists now need to observe the mutation, calculate its "infectivity" and if it is more, figure out precautions -- surveillance and other things, he said.

Maharashtra reported a jump of 5,427 cases on Thursday and Mumbai reported 736 cases. Amravati and Yavatmal have been placed under restrictions.

There will be a lockdown from Saturday evening to Monday morning in Amravati. In Yavatmal, schools and colleges will remain closed till February 28. Restaurants and wedding halls will operate but with less than 50 per cent capacity. Assembly of five or more people will not be allowed.