Emerging coronavirus strain: NTF says ‘No need to change existing treatment protocol’

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The National Task Force (NTF) meeting on COVID-19 pandemic convened by ICMR on Saturday concluded that there is no need to change the existing treatment protocol in view of mutations emerging in the coronavirus strain.

The meeting convened to discuss evidence-based modifications in testing, treatment, and surveillance strategies for SARS-CoV-2 in view of the recent reports of the emergence of a new variant strain of the virus from the UK. The variant strain has 14 non-synonymous (amino acid altering) mutations, 6 synonymous (non-amino-acid altering), and 3 deletions. Eight mutations are present in the Spike (S) gene which carries the binding site (Receptor Binding Domain) of the ACE2 receptors, which are the point of entry of the virus into the human respiratory cells.

Convened under co-chairpersonship of Professor Vinod Paul, a member Niti Aayog, and Professor Balram Bhargava, the secretary at the Department of Health Research & Director General ICMR, the meeting was also attended by Prof. Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS; Director General Health Services (DGHS); Drug Controller General of India (DCGI); Director, National Center for Disease Control (NCDC); other representatives from Ministry of Health and ICMR as well as independent subject experts.

NTF deliberated in detail on aspects related to the current National Treatment Protocol, testing strategy, and surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 vis-à-vis the UK variant strain. It was emphasized that since the UK variant strain is implicated to cause increased transmissibility of the virus, it is critical to identify individuals infected with this strain and adequately contain them to prevent its transmission in India.

In view of this, the meeting concluded that the existing treatment protocol meets the demand. “Since ICMR has always advocated the use of two or more gene assays for testing SARS-CoV-2, it is unlikely to miss infected cases using the current testing strategy,” the ministry of health said in a statement. 

NTF recommended that in addition to the existing surveillance strategies, it is critical to conduct enhanced genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 specially in incoming passengers from the UK. 

Besides, it will also be critical to conduct genome sequencing in samples where there is a dropout of the S gene in lab diagnosis, proven cases of re-infections, etc. Routine genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 from representative samples all across the samples needs to be a continuous and well-planned activity.

NCDC informed that the Government of India has taken cognizance of the reports of the mutant variant of SARS-CoV-2 reported from the UK and the response of other Countries to these reports. “The situation is being monitored proactively. A strategy has been put under place to detect & contain the mutant variant,” the release said.