New Delhi, March 24: A new "double mutant variant" of SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in India in addition to the several "variants of concern" that have already been found in at least 18 states, the Union Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
Some of these "variants of concern" had earlier been detected abroad.
The ministry, however, said it could not be sufficiently established yet if these variants were behind the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in some states.
It said genome sequencing by Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) has identified variants of concerns (VOCs) in several states and a new double mutant variant.
Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyse the situation.
The Ministry of Health had established on December 25 INSACOG which is a grouping of 10 national laboratories for carrying out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating COVID-19 viruses, and correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants.
Genomic variants of various viruses are a natural phenomenon and are found in almost all countries, the ministry highlighted.
"Since INSACOG initiated its work, 771 variants of concerns (VOCs) have been detected in a total of 10,787 positive samples shared by states and UTs (union territories)."
"These include 736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage. Also, 34 samples were found positive for viruses of the South African (B.1.351) lineage. One sample was found positive for viruses of the Brazilian (P.1) lineage. The samples with these VOCs have been identified in 18 states of the country," the ministry said.
Genome sequencing and analysis have been carried out on samples from arriving international travellers, contacts of those positive for VOC and community samples from most of the states at INSACOG partner laboratories, it stated.
The analysis of samples from Maharashtra has revealed that compared to December 2020, there has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations, the ministry said.
Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity. These mutations have been found in about 15-20 per cent of samples and do not match any previously catalogued VOCs, the ministry said.
"These have been categorized as VOCs but require the same epidemiological and public health response of increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases and contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol by the states and UTs," the ministry stated.
From Kerala, 2032 samples (from all 14 districts) have been sequenced. The N440K variant that is associated with immune escape has been found in 123 samples from 11 districts.
This variant was earlier found in 33 per cent of samples from Andhra Pradesh, and in 53 of 104 samples from Telangana. This variant has also been reported from 16 other countries, including the UK, Denmark, Singapore, Japan and Australia.
"As of now these can be at best said to be variant under investigation," the ministry said.
"Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States," the ministry said.