Health experts say India missed early alarm, let deadly coronavirus variant spread

Health experts say India missed early alarm, let deadly coronavirus variant spread


New Delhi: A senior public health expert warned senior Indian officials in early March that a new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in a rural area in the center of the country and that the epidemic requires urgent attention.

Dr. Subhash Salunke, who has 30 years of public health experience in India, Indonesia and the United States, told Reuters that federal health authorities have failed to adequately respond to this warning.

This variant, now known as B.1.617, triggered a catastrophic wave of coronavirus cases in India and has since spread to more than 40 other countries. In May of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) called it a “variant of concern” on the grounds that it is highly contagious.

The first impact of this variant was discovered a few months ago in the Amrawati region in the western state of Maharashtra, where health authorities recorded a rapid increase in coronavirus infections in this region in early February, even in India. There has been a decline in cases elsewhere.

Salenk, a former WHO official who advised the government of Maharashtra State, said that he notified some of India’s most senior health officials in early March and spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chief Coronavirus consultant VK Paul and the head of the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) Sujeet Kumar Singh (Sujeet Kumar Singh).

Salenke told Reuters that he warned Paul and Singh that the virus is showing signs of mutation in Amravati and its spread is increasing, and he asked the federal government to help sequence more samples to determine how the variant behaves. . Reuters was unable to independently verify what was said in these conversations.

“Although public health personnel like me issued a clear warning to them, they ignored it,” Salenke told Reuters.

In response to a question from Reuters, Paul said that he had a conversation with Salenke, but described the conversation as sending a message instead of warning.

He refuted Salenk’s allegations that he ignored it, saying he asked the National Institute of Virology (NIV) of India to study the variant more closely, and told the Maharashtra government to strengthen its existing virus Reaction.

Reuters was unable to determine whether the NIV conducted any such research. NIV referred Reuters’ questions to the Indian Medical Research Council, which did not respond.

“The government has stepped up sequencing and clinical epidemiological research,” Paul told Reuters. “The government has strongly and repeatedly emphasized the need to use all tools more actively to contain and optimize testing from multiple forums.”

NCDC’s Singh and the Indian Ministry of Health did not respond to Reuters’ questions about Salenke’s warning.

Although Salenke warned about this issue, and in early March, a scientific advisory forum further warned that this new variant was popular in the country, but the federal government allowed election rallies, religious festivals, and other mass gatherings to take place. Measures can be taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

Within 80 days, the variant spread from Amravati to dozens of countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and Singapore, which set back global efforts to contain the disease.

It is impossible to say exactly how many infections in each country are caused by new variants, because very few positive test samples are sequenced. US authorities estimated last week that this variant accounted for 6% of local coronavirus infections.

In India, the number of infections has risen sharply since April — according to public health research, partly due to this mutation — overwhelming the country’s health system, resulting in insufficient hospital beds and oxygen, and crematoriums and cemeteries overcrowded. The Minister of Health of India, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, said last month that the mutation was found in about 20% of the country’s sequenced samples.

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