New laboratories in the financial capital, Mumbai, and in the city of Pune are searching for dangerous new variants. They have stepped up testing, to over 3,600 samples per month from 134 in December last year, as they search for mutations that could make the virus even harder to stop.
India is still far short of its goal to increase genome sequencing nationwide. While Covid-19 cases and deaths have plunged, according to official numbers, the virus is continuing to spread in some parts of the country. A low vaccination rate and other factors have left India especially vulnerable to variants like Delta, the strain that helped power India’s second wave this past spring.
“We need to track new variants to prepare ourselves for the next wave because waves will keep happening, much like the flu or common cold, which keep recurring because the virus mutates or recombines,” said Dr. Vinod Scaria, the principal scientist at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi. “You can’t really prevent that. But you can always be prepared for it.”
The second wave, which exploded across the country in April and May, exposed both the Delta variant’s increased communicability and India’s inability to cope. Official figures show that about 430,000 people have died since the virus hit early last year, though the numbers are widely considered unreliable and experts say the true toll may be in the millions. The second wave pushed the country’s medical system past its limits and led to anger over the government’s inability to handle the crisis. (NYT)