Covid Review Meet: Covid Not Over, Be Alert And Increase Surveillance, Says Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya

The Union government has asked states and Union territories (UTs) to increase the genome sequencing of positive samples to keep track of emerging coronavirus variants. This comes amid spurt of cases in China and other countries such as Japan and South Korea. Notably, earlier surges were driven by Delta and Omicron variants that had emerged recently at the time.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Wednesday said the Covid-19 pandemic is not over and instructed officials to be alert and increase surveillance.

In the wake of Covid-19 surge in China and other countries, Mandaviya on Wednesday held a meeting to review the Covid-19 situation in India. The meeting followed the Union Home Ministry's directive to states and Union territories (UTs) asking them to increase genome sequencing of Covid-19 positive samples so that any new coronavirus variant is identified at the earliest.

Following Covid-19 review meeting, Mandaviya said the government is "prepared to manage any situation".

The meeting, chaired by Mandaviya, was a high-level meeting attended by top officials, including; 

  • Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan
  • Union Pharmaceuticals Department Secretary S Aparna
  • Biotechnology Department Secretary Rajesh S Gokhale
  • Ayush Ministry Secretary Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha
  • Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Rajiv Bahl
  • Member (Health) of NITI Aayog Dr VK Paul
  • National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) Chairman Dr NK Arora

What are the Covid concerns?

The Covid-19 review meeting was prompted by the rise of Covid-19 infections in China and a number of countries.

Besides China whose healthcare system is being overwhelmed by an unprecedented surge, Covid-19 cases are also rising in the United States, South Korea, Brazil, and China. 

In the backdrop of this, the Union Health Ministry has asked all the states and UTs to increase genome sequencing of positive samples to catch any new coronavirus variant. Notably, earlier surges were driven by new variants, with India's deadly second wave being driven by Delta Variant and the later surge being driven by highly infectious Omicron Variant.

Increase genome sequencing: Centre to states, UTs

In a letter to states and UTs, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said improved genome sequencing of positive samples will enable timely detection of newer variants, if any, circulating in the country and will facilitate undertaking of requisite public health measures. 

Bhushan further highlighted that India with its focus on the five-fold strategy of test-track-treat-vaccination and adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour has been able to restrict the transmission of the coronavirus and is having around 1,200 cases on a weekly basis.

Public health challenge of Covid-19 still persists around the world with around 35 lakh cases being reported weekly, Bhushan said.

He further said, "In view of the sudden spurt of cases being witnessed in Japan, United States of America, Republic of Korea, Brazil and China, it is essential to gear up the whole genome sequencing of positive case samples to track the variants through Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) network. 

"In this context, all states are requested to ensure that as far as possible samples of all positive cases, on a daily basis, are sent to the designated INSACOG Genome Laboratories that are mapped to states and UTs."

INSACOG stands for Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium. It is a consortium of 54 laboratories across India to monitor the genomic sequensing of Covid-19 samples. This is a multi-agency initiative which gives crucial data that gives a better picture of the viral spread. 

"This helps to understand super spreader events, outbreaks and strengthen public health interventions across the country to help in breaking the chains of transmission. Linking this data with the IDSP data [Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme] and patient’s symptoms allows a better understanding of the viral infection dynamics, morbidity and mortality trends. Further, the data can be linked with host genomics, immunology, clinical outcomes and risk factors for a more comprehensive outlook. In addition, as the reported cases of reinfection and vaccine breakthroughs samples are also being sequencing assumes," says the Union Department of Biotechnology.

The INSACOG is jointly initiated by the Union Health Ministry, Department of Biotechnology with Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It is facilitated by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) involving the Central Surveillance Unit (CSU) under Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP). 

(With PTI inputs)