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NEW DELHI: A pan-India study by the Department of Biotechnology suggests that A2a strain of SARS-CoV-2, which is the prominent novel coronavirus subtype found in the country, has not undergone any major mutation since June and there is no indication that the vaccine or diagnostics strategy would be hindered.

The DBT’s National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani (West Bengal), along with its sister organisations — Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneshwar, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, National Centre for Cell Sciences, Pune, Institute of Cell Sciences and Regenerative Medicine (INStem), and National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru – have sequenced of 1,058 genomes in the past six months.

Saumitra Das, the director of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, said the institutes started sequencing the virus from different parts of the country from April.

“Initially, there were different strains. But by June, we found that A2a strain of the virus is more predominantly found in India,” said Das, whose institute was instrumental in sequencing around 500 genomes.

“We don’t see any major mutation that happened between June and now which can replace the A2a strain…There is no such indication,” Das said.

On Saturday, a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office said, “Two pan-India studies on the Genome of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19 virus) in India conducted by ICMR and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) suggest that the virus is genetically stable and there is no major mutation in the virus.”

Last month, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had said no significant or drastic mutations have been found in strains of SARS-CoV-2 in India till now.

Mutation typically refers to the property of a virus to undergo changes when it multiplies and the virus may develop some new strains after it replicates.

In some cases, the new strains tend to be less effective and therefore die out soon, while in other cases they may become more powerful and lead to faster spread of the virus.

There had been concerns in some quarters that any major mutation detected in the novel coronavirus could hinder the development of an effective vaccine. However, some recent global studies have said the vaccines currently being developed for COVID-19 should not be affected by recent mutations.

Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or building blocks. It helps in understanding how genes work together to direct the growth, development and maintenance of an entire organism.

The Department of Biotechnology and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – both under the Ministry of Science and Technology — have sequenced thousands of genomes so far.

Asked whether the existing mutation would affect India’s vaccine or diagnostics strategy, Das said, “It should not.”

“This mutation should not affect the antigenic epitope used for vaccine development. So it is (applicable for) the diagnostics as well. As such we don’t see continuous mutation but there will be drift,” Das said.

He added that there will be one or two mutations “here and there”, but no major mutation is likely to take place.

He, however, did not rule out mutations in future. “We don’t rule that out…it may not happen in future but we want a continuous surveillance.”

Das said the plan is to continuously monitor the sequences.

In July, Rakesh Mishra, director of CSIR’s Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, had said the strain of the novel coronavirus in a majority of cases in India is the predominant ‘subtype’ found in other parts of the globe, a uniformity that bodes well for the efficacy of a vaccine or drug developed anywhere in the world.

According to Mishra, the A2a clade, also the most predominant strain globally, accounts for 80-90 per cent of the genomes from India.

His institute had till then submitted 315 genomes on viral genome sequence repositories of the coronavirus and analysed over 1,700 publicly available virus sequences that were sampled across the country, “The virus is mutating at a rate of 26 times per year (once every 15 days) which is in accordance with the rate observed globally as it hints at the stability of the virus. The chances that existing clades (subtype/ strain) of the virus mutate into something more dangerous are very less,” Mishra had told PTI.

“So far, the mutations analysed in our data also suggest the same thing – they are either neutral or deleterious (for themselves), and therefore result in a weaker virus,” Mishra said.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

Snowfall in Gulmarg, other areas of Kashmir

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SRINAGAR: Gulmarg and other places in the higher reaches of Kashmir received fresh snowfall on Sunday, causing the mercury to drop across the valley, officials said.

Gulmarg, the famous ski resort in north Kashmir‘s Baramulla district, received light snowfall in the evening. It continued for most part of the evening before making way for rain, they said.

Snowfall was also recorded in Sonamarg tourist resort in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district and Zojila Pass along the Srinagar-Leh highway, according to the officials.

There were reports of snowfall in several other areas in the higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir including areas along the Mughal Road – the alternate roadway connecting the valley with Jammu, the officials said.

The road has been closed for traffic, they said.

The snowfall in the higher reaches of Kashmir led to a drop in temperature across the Valley.

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INDIA

All citizens in the country to get free Covid-19 vaccine: Union minister

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BHUBANESWAR: Union minister Pratap Sarangi on Sunday said that all people of the country will be given free Covid vaccine, amid the demand by opposition parties in the country for it and not only in poll-bound Bihar as announced by the BJP.

The BJP announcement of free Covid vaccine for Bihar, where assembly polls begin this week, had kicked up a controversy with the opposition parties tearing into the NDA government alleging that the ruling party was using the pandemic for political reasons.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said the announcement was in order as it was an election manifesto announcement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that all people will be provided free of cost vaccines. An estimated Rs 500 odd will be spent on vaccination of each person, Sarangi told reporters after addressing a campaign meeting for the November 3 assembly by-poll in Balasore.

Modi had in a televised adddress to the nation on October 20 said that Indian scientists are in the process of developing several vaccines that are at different stages of clinical trials and the results seem encouraging.

Sarangi, the union minister of state for animal husbandry, dairy, fisheries and micro, small and medium enterprises spoke in reply to question raised by Odisha Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Minister, R P Swain.

Swain had earlier in the day sought clarification from Dharmendra Pradhan and Sarangi, the two union ministers from Odisha questioning them for their silence on their party BJP’s stand on free Covid-19 vaccination for the people of the state along the lines of the one being promised in Bihar.

The governments of Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Puduchchery have already announced free of cost Covid vaccines for the people of their states, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has demanded free vaccine for all citizens across the country.

Swain had tweeted “I am asking questions to two Odisha union ministers from Balasore soil to clarify as to why the people of the state will not get free of cost Covid vaccine. The union ministers should clarify BJPs stand on the corona vaccination in Odisha.

On the state governments steps for vaccination, Swain said it has signed an agreement with a vaccine manufacturer and is committed to extend the facility to all people of the state.

He, however, did not say whether the state government will provide the vaccine to the people free of cost.

BJP deputy leader in Odisha Assembly Bishnu Charan Sethi said the Centre has been supporting Odisha fully during the pandemic and has granted Rs 22,000 crore for the purpose.

“But large scale lapses have been detected in the utilisation of the fund,” he alleged.

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INDIA

Wheels up for trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia: Pompeo

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WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Sunday boarded the flight for the trip to India for the third edition of the two-plus-two ministerial dialogue, that begins in New Delhi. The visit comes a week before the American presidential election scheduled on November 3.

The State Secretary will be travelling along with Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper from October 25 to 29. Pompeo will also visit Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia to engage the countries in discussions on how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Taking to Twitter, Pompeo said, “Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with our partners to promote a shared vision for a free and open IndoPacific composed of independent, strong, and prosperous nations.”

Wheels up for my trip to India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Indonesia. Grateful for the opportunity to connect with ou… https://t.co/DtIxmxpQUK

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) 1603642892000

This will be the third India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. They will be meeting Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on October 27 and will also have bilateral meetings with their counterparts.

They will also be meeting NSA Ajit Doval and will jointly call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The India-US 2+2 talks will focus on four themes — regional security cooperation, defense information sharing, military-to-military interactions, and defense trade, said the US State Department on Friday. The first two 2+2 Ministerial dialogues had been held in New Delhi in September 2018 and Washington DC in 2019.

Besides, Pompeo will be urging the Sri Lankan officials to make decisions about its relationship with China and to review the option that the United States offers for transparent and sustainable economic development, according to an earlier statement by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson.

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