CM – Hysteria must not overtake empathy and common sense: CSIR-IGIB director Anurag Agarwal on Omicron detection

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Many calculations that portability is six times higher than Delta’s have an underlying flaw, Agarwal said.

Published: November 28, 2021 7:33 PM |

Last updated: November 29, 2021 7:21 AM

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Hysteria must not overtake empathy and common sense, said CSIR-IGIB director Anurag Agarwal in an interview with Sumi Sukanya Dutta of The New Indian Express, despite fears the discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 global.

The CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology is a key institute of INSACOG, a consortium of several institutions of the National Center for Disease Control to carry out comprehensive genomic and epidemiological surveillance of the SARS-CoV- 2 virus in India. Excerpts from the interview

Q. Why do you think scientists and administrations around the world are so concerned about the detection of the Omicron variant (B. 1.1.529) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus?

With 30 amino acid changes, three small deletions and a small insertion in the spike protein, the Omicron variant is the most strongly mutated version of the SARS-CoV virus to date. Many of these mutations are located at antibody binding sites and are thought to reduce the effectiveness of neutralizing antibodies. Some mutations have also been associated with increased transmissibility in earlier variants.

Its rapid emergence and spread took place in a population that is expected to have high natural immunity due to a previous large delta wave . We also saw examples of transmission between fully vaccinated international travelers. Thus, the limited clinical data so far are consistent with molecular predictions of high Immunescape potential.

What I note here is that many calculations that portability is six times higher than delta have an underlying error. The growth advantage over Delta, as measured during its decreasing transmission, is not the right way to assess transmissibility as there is likely immunity to Delta but not to Omicron in the population. The immune defense alone can explain a lot of what we have seen so far.

Q. How is our genetic surveillance program for SARS CoV 2 prepared for the detection of the variant in India and how do you think it will be the containment measures Contribute?

First of all, our colleagues in South Africa have to be praised for finding and informing Omicron quickly. I think there is a lot to learn from their excellent work, but we are well prepared. Timely sequencing will help determine a community’s seed and guide public health action.

However, I would recommend that we try to look for Omicron ourselves in the initial diagnostic test. The failure of the S-gene target of RT-PCR has been used by South Africa to detect its spread without waiting for sequencing. Although these types of three gene kits containing the S gene are not readily available to us, we are able to manufacture them completely.

Alternative CRISPR-based methods are also possible. We should explore all options. I would like to add here that while we need to be more strict about the existing protocols for travelers from higher risk regions, we should not overreact by banning all flights or creating undue hardship beyond what is necessary.

We too have helped spread a new VOC and the old adage « do what you want them to do to others » is good to remember. We are all involved as a global community.

Very bad variants cannot be stopped permanently by simply stopping flights to the few countries that report their presence. Hysteria must not overtake empathy and common sense.

ALSO READ: Omicron allegedly has 30 mutations in the spike protein region, can bypass vaccines, says AIIMS boss

Q. Given the information we have so far, it is entitled of the variant a third COVID-19 wave in India is imminent?

If you ask if I am seeing something like the second wave again, with increasing hospital admissions and deaths – no, I don’t see any fixed dates as of yet lead to this conclusion, especially since there is still no evidence of a higher severity.

If you’re wondering if we’ll see an increase in new cases in the coming months, it is likely. How much, how fast, how badly depends on our decisions and a willingness to take reasonable precautions.

Overall, it’s a time to be careful and prepared. We don’t need to panic. However, this is a good time to consider boosters for people like health workers and the elderly. In my opinion, if we prepare well we will be fine, with an increase in cases, but not what most people have in mind when they think of the third wave

Q. Can you please explain why the mutation of the virus – which in its earlier forms has already infected a significant part of the world’s population – is still ongoing and what this means for the course of the pandemic?

RNA viruses are mutating. The large reservoir of infected hosts has allowed SARS CoV2 to evolve and become more contagious. Some of this is a matter of chance, but honestly, global efforts to reduce infection in concert have been inadequate everywhere.

While global production of vaccines is enough to vaccinate anyone in the world, unfortunately, a large portion remains unvaccinated.

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