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Covid cases surging globally: Centre asks states to speed up genome sequencing

In what has come as an alarming development, Covid cases across the globe have seen a sharp increase notably in countries including Japan, USA, Korea, Brazil, and China. This comes as China bowed down to public pressure last week against its “zero Covid” policy to lift nearly three years of lockdowns, quarantines, and mass testing which has been followed by a spurt in cases.

The hospitals in China are becoming increasingly overwhelmed and the health system is currently under immense pressure. As per an estimate by epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding that more than 60% of China and 10% of Earth’s population are likely to be infected over the next 90 days with deaths likely in the millions.

In wake of this, the Centre on Tuesday wrote to the states suggesting them to ramp up genome sequencing of positive case samples to track variants through the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) network. In a letter, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, said, “In view of sudden spurt of cases being witnessed in Japan, USA, Korea, Brazil, and China, it’s essential to gear up the whole genome sequencing of positive case samples to track variants through Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium(INSACOG) network.”

China’s Covid caseload spiralling, hospitals packed

With China registering a massive surge in cases after Beijing lifted its stringent lockdown and testing rules, hospitals in the country are scrambling to install beds and crematoriums are straining.

As per estimates by experts, over 70 per cent of Beijing’s population has been hit by the virus, which confined millions of people to their homes. There is also a question of China under-reporting the number of fatalities, as it says that only Covid-19 deaths from “respiratory failures” will be included in the official death toll. Beijing, which is hit by the BF.7 variant of the Omicron strain, has announced 5 more deaths in addition to the 2 on Monday, the first official fatalities since relaxation of the anti-virus controls.

The outbreak in China is currently predominantly driven by highly transmissible Omicron strains namely BA.5.2 and BF.7, which may also spawn into new mutations.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies studying the virus and its surge have also raised alarm over the new variations and said that they “allow the virus to spread more easily or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines.”

Meanwhile China’s vaccination statistics are also a cause for concern. About 90% of the population aged over 18 has been administered two doses of a Chinese vaccine against coronavirus. However, the two shots do not seem to be enough against the Omicron sub variants of the coronavirus. Moreover, only about 50 per cent of older people have received the third shot.

India to gear up genome sequencing

Union Secretary for Health Rajesh Bhushan in a letter has asked that all responsible authorities to contribute in gearing up the genome sequencing process of all Covid positive samples. Bhushan emphasised that such a move would help early detection of new variants and will facilitate undertaking of requisite public health measures. 

Bhushan also mentioned that India will focus on its five-fold strategy of test-track-treat-vaccination and adhere to the Covid Appropriate Behavior by which the country has been able to restrict the transmission of Covid-19 virus and is having around twelve hundred cases on a weekly basis.

As per latest data by the Union Health Ministry, India has recorded 112 new Covid cases while the active cases have declined to 3,408. The death toll stands at 5,30,677 with three fatalities, which includes two deaths reconciled by Kerala and one from Maharashtra in the last 24 hours. India’s recovery rate currently stands at 98.80%.

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