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Vikash Sharma

Bhubaneswar: The swab samples a 34-year-old man, who tested positive for COVID-19 following his return from the United Kingdom (UK) on December 18, has been sent to a laboratory in Pune for genome sequencing.

The Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) Commissioner, Prem Chandra Chaudhary on Thursday said that genome sequencing becomes imperative to ascertain if the traveller has been infected by the new mutant strain that has been detected in the UK, or it was the old coronavirus strain.

He said there was no need to panic as the infected person has been isolated and admitted to a dedicated government hospital for the necessary treatment. The swab samples of three of his family members have also been collected for tests, Chaudhary added.

On December 18 the traveller who reached Bhubaneswar from UK had tested positive for the virus during tests at a private laboratory in the capital city.

According to experts, the new mutant strain (B.1.1.7 lineage) reported in the UK is a more infectious variant of SARS-CoV-2.

What Is Genome Sequencing?

Genome sequencing involves revealing the order of bases present in the entire genome of an organism. Genome sequencing is backed by automated DNA sequencing methods and computer software to assemble the enormous sequence data.

The Institute of Life Sciences (ILS) Bhubaneswar is one of the five centres in the country selected by the Centre to conduct genome sequencing to ascertain whether there is any presence of the mutant strain of the virus in India.

Apart from ILS, the genome sequencing of samples will be conducted at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (New Delhi), Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (Hyderabad), National Institute of Virology (Pune) and InStem-NCBS (Bangalore).

According to ILS director, Ajay Parida virus mutation is quite natural. Earlier in Odisha, as many as 224 strains were found and there was only one mutation- D614-G.

The Centre has already issued guidelines and intensified surveillance following the new Covid-190 mutant scare. Flight operations to and from UK have been banned as a preventive measure.

“All the passengers who have returned from UK are being screened and after COVID-19 tests, they will be isolated and swab samples would be taken for the virus sequencing at laboratories including at Bhubaneswar, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore,” said Parida.

As per Parida, one case has been reported in Odisha and already BMC has sent his swab samples to Pune to identify if he is affected with the new mutated strain or not.

As per protocol, the concerned UK returnee will be kept in complete isolation and other norms including contact tracing will be duly followed.

Travellers who have returned from UK are being kept in isolation in the country. Only through genome sequencing, it can be known if they were carrying the mutant strain or not.

“The genome sequencing is a time taking process. It takes 3-4 days to conduct a complete analysis of the virus profile. Though infectivity rate is high in the new strain, its lethality rate has not yet been ascertained. Hence, everybody needs to follow the guidelines and remain cautious,” said Parida.

Parida further informed that the Centre has already directed to conduct genome sequencing of 700 to 800 random samples every month. ILS will conduct genome sequencing of samples collected in eastern India, he added.

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