Srinagar – The Doctors Association Kashmir (DAK) on Saturday sought a genome sequencing facility in Kashmir that would detect and track COVID-19 variants.
“Picking up variants is key to formulate appropriate and effective health policy that would help prevent and control their spread in the community,” DAK president and influenza expert Dr Nisar ul Hassan said on Saturday.
“Detecting variants and knowing where and how widely they are spreading could be critical to prevent another deadly wave of COVID-19 like the one we saw earlier,” he said.
Dr Hassan said genome sequencing in a given population can serve as an early warning system to guide the public health response. “It can help in identification of hotspots which is critical to plan targeted public health interventions to control the spread of the disease,” he said.
Dr Hassan said sequencing is imperative to understand the manner in which the mutating variants are behaving in terms of infectivity, severity, response to treatment and effectiveness of vaccines. “If we don’t know the changes in the genetic structure of the virus, we are running blind,” he said.
The DAK president said that fighting a pandemic without doing adequate genome sequencing is almost fighting an unknown enemy. “COVID-19 has a tendency to mutate as it spreads through the population and mutations can change the behaviour of the virus,” he said.
“Since the outbreak, multiple mutated versions of the coronavirus have emerged that differ from the original strain,” he said, adding most of the mutants are insignificant, but some can make the virus more infectious and even deadlier
“Delta variant, first detected in India last year was responsible for the deadly second wave,” Dr Hassan said.
He said recently a new Delta Plus variant has been detected in at least twelve Indian states including Jammu and Kashmir and it has been designated as a variant of concern as it seems to spread more easily and bind more easily to lung cells. “The variant looms at a time when Covid-19 cases are declining and people are weary of precautions. People must realize that the downward trend could quickly reverse if the new variant takes hold,” he added.