Jammu and Kashmir it seems is now firmly in the ferocious grip of the second Covid-19 wave. 2204 fresh cases were reported in the biggest ever spike in a single day on April 21 while 13 people succumbed to the virus, the highest fatality count thus far this year. Also the government admitted that 28 cases of UK and other new virus strains were reported in Jammu. No new strain or double mutant has been found in Kashmir, the government functionaries said.
So far, the government has blamed inbound travelers and complacency or callousness on part of the people for the rapid spread of the virus. However, with little or negligible samples sent to verify the new strain or mutants, it is unrealistic to rule out the possibility that they are not behind the rapid increase in the cases.
It is an established fact that all viruses mutate. Many mutations are insignificant and disappear. But sometimes a small change in the genetic code can give the virus an advantage in the pressure-cooker environment of natural selection. While there are many unknowns, scientists looking at genetic sequences of the new strain see an unexpectedly large number of changes and some of them concern the spike protein, the device by which the virus attaches to the human cell.
Globally it has been found that the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first found in the United Kingdom, triggers an entirely new wave of infections when it takes hold. This happened with England followed by parts of Europe and the United States (US). The US saw an unbridled two-lakh-plus new cases daily for one and a half months—December-mid-January— and almost six lakh deaths to date.
Another variant—B.1.617—has been found in India. The Western scientists spotted a tell-tale drift in genome sequences submitted from India to the global GISAID repository, the variant was popping up more frequently in samples. There are fears that it is either B.1.617 or B.1.1.7 or both or new variants which are fuelling the present wave in India. In Jammu and Kashmir context, there is a need to find if the variants are spreading and leading to the rapid increase in the cases. As has been called for by a doctors’ body recently, there is need for genetic testing of COVID-19 positive samples which will pick up mutants and consequently help formulate appropriate and effective health policy that would help prevent and control their spread in the community.