Instead of sequencing or data collection, the government is offering patriotic bluster in the face of this deadly second wave
The variant that threatens the British summer has already done far more damage in India. In October last year a sample from the western state of Maharashtra containing what would later be identified as the B.1.617.3 variant was sequenced and uploaded to Gisaid, a global database of Covid-19 samples from across the world. The variant had multiple mutations located on the virus’s spike protein that binds it to receptor cells in the human body. Some of these mutations were present in other variants, or seemed capable of evading immunity. All of this should have set off alarm bells in India and led to increased surveillance across the world.
Instead, India’s genome sequencing project continued to flounder through the rest of 2020. For most of last year, India did virtually no genome sequencing, Dr Gagandeep Kang, one of India’s leading virologists, told me. While other countries submitted thousands of sequences to databases such as Gisaid for scientists across the world to study, India submitted only a few hundred. This was partly due to a lack of funding. It was also possibly the result of a lack of interest; last year, India’s Covid curve appeared to be falling.
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