A large number of variants of the Covid-19 virus are believed to have spread across the country

Seventeen new laboratories will be added to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic consortium (INSACOG) network to monitor variants of the Covid-19 virus being found across the country.

Announcing this at the 28th meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Monday, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said this would take the number of such labs to 27 from the existing 10. This will lead to a significant increase in the number of samples being screened.

At least 5% of the samples that have tested positive have to be sequenced to enable better monitoring. Estimates, however, suggest that India has been able to sequence only around 1% of the samples till now.

A large number of variants of the Covid-19 virus are believed to have spread across the country. These are said to be responsible for faster transmission and increased virulence of the infection.

During the meeting, Director National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Sujeet K Singh presented a detailed report on the mutations of SARS-CoV-2 and Variants of Concern (VoCs) being reported in India.

He shared figures related to the state-wise prevalence of VoCs like the B.1.1.7 and B.1.617 across India. The B.1.1.7 lineage (UK variant) was found predominant in samples collected in Punjab and Chandigarh between February and March this year.

The GoM also reviewed the status of testing for Covid-19 infections in the country.

Secretary (Health Research) & DG Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balaram Bhargava explained some innovative changes made in the testing policy.

This would widen its scope of application and help in mass screening for Covid-19, particularly in peri-urban and rural settings where health infrastructure was relatively weak. Deployment of mobile RT-PCR testing vans and amplification of RAT tests was presented as the way forward.

While the present capacity is around 25 lakhs (RTPCR-13 lakh and RAT- 12 lakh), this is projected to exponentially increase to 45 lakhs (RTPCR-18 lakh and RAT- 27 lakh) under the new testing regimen.

During the meeting, the Union Health Minister noted that India's daily new cases had dropped to less than 3 lakhs for the first time after 26 days. A net decline of 1,01,461 cases had also been recorded in the active caseload in the last 24 hours.

He added that the Centre continues to help States under a ‘whole of government’ approach to tide over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nearly 422.79 lakh N95 masks, 176.91 lakh PPE kits, 52.64 lakh Remdesivir injections and 45,066 ventilators were distributed among States/UTs, Vardhan said.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep S Puri, Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways & Chemical and Fertilizers Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, and Minister of State Health & Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey attended the meeting.

Dr. Vinod K Paul, Member (Health) NITI Aayog VK Paul was also present virtually.