No Significant SARS-CoV-2 Mutation in India, ICMR Exploring Saliva-based Covid-19 Test: Vardhan

File photo of Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in Lok Sabha.

File photo of Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in Lok Sabha.

Harsh Vardhan also said the ICMR has been conducting largescale sequencing of nationally representative strains and detailed results on mutations will be available in early October.

The ICMR is actively exploring saliva-based test for detection of COVID-19, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Sunday and asserted that no significant or drastic mutation in strains of SARS-CoV-2 has been found in India till now. During an interaction with his social media followers, Vardhan informed them the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been conducting large-scale sequencing of nationally representative strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus collected for several months over different time-points.

Detailed results on mutations and evolution of the virus will be available in early October, he said. Replying to queries during the 'Sunday Samvad' platform, Vardhan further said enough oxygen is being produced in the country and the health ministry is closely monitoring the situation.

According to a health ministry statement, he reminded everyone that the ministry had dispatched oxygen concentrators to rural parts of the country, to avert the logistic issues that have come to light. About saliva-based test for COVID-19, Vardhan noted that the ICMR has validated a few tests, but no reliable test has been found and companies with tests approved by US-FDA have still not approached the Government of India.

He added that the country's apex health research body is actively exploring this test method and will inform as soon as reliable options are available. Regarding the Centre's achievement of engineering polio eradication in India, he reminded the audience that coronavirus is a novel pathogen and unlike polio, literature for it is absent.

India's handling of disease outbreaks in the past such as SARS, Ebola and plague will play a major role in containing coronavirus, Vardhan said. "The minister assured another (social media) follower that no significant or drastic mutations have been found in strains of SARS-CoV-2 in India (available in GISAID, global database), till now," according to the health ministry statement.

Vardhan said 155 families of COVID Warriors have claimed relief under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package: Insurance Scheme for Health Workers Fighting COVID-19. These include 64 doctors, 32 auxiliary nurse midwives and multipurpose healthcare workers, 14 ASHA workers and 45 other frontline workers who lost their lives. He also noted that it would take a substantive amount of time for developing herd immunity to be able to cover about 70 per cent of the population. Hence the focus of the government is primarily towards putting together a strategy that combines containment and hospital management, the minister said.

Being a doctor himself, Vardhan answered questions on the clinical management of COVID-19 in great detail dispelling myths surrounding the use of hydroxychloroquine and plasma therapy in treating coronavirus patients. He also explained to his audience how coronavirus becomes fatal for the elderly and those with comorbidity. He also sought to dispel fears caused by the suspension of trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate, saying vaccine development is a complex process and trials have restarted only after an independent investigative expert committee permitted them to proceed.

"He explained the difference between various vaccines under clinical trial in India and that since formulations, doses, route of administration are different for the vaccines, their mechanisms of action are also different. "However, the desirable outcome of each vaccine is much the same, that is ensuring healthy individuals with immunity against the novel coronavirus," the statement said.

During the 'Sunday Samvad', he shared several tips for the mental wellbeing of senior citizens. About concrete measures planned to handle public health emergencies in the future, Vardhan said, the 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan' will strengthen the nation to an extent where "we will be able to overcome any eventuality including another pandemic".

The health minister said 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' underlines the government's commitment towards increased investments in public health and other health reforms to prepare India for future pandemics. A major proposal under consideration at the Expenditure Finance Committee level includes strengthening surveillance of infectious diseases and outbreak response including that for points of entry, the establishment of dedicated infectious disease management hospital blocks in district hospitals and Integrated Public Health Laboratories, he added.

Vardhan also spoke on the role of traditional medicine in the present context and informed those who attended the 'Samvad' event that the AYUSH Ministry has developed research protocols for validating claims of various Ayush practitioners for COVID-19 solutions although no formulation has been validated as a specific drug. Vardhan also answered queries regarding India's plan to divert human resources to science and the role of government policy in achieving a clean environment witnessed during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

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