Visit CCMB's Official Website

CCMB director Rakesh Mishra tells ThePrint India could see a spread of the Covid strain up to secondary and territory levels as all UK returnees have not been traced yet.

Hyderabad: After the detection of the first few cases in India with the new Covid-19 UK strain, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Research (CCMB) in Hyderabad has said there could be a “large number of UK variant positive cases” in the coming days.

CCMB director Rakesh Mishra told ThePrint there is a good chance that India might “make our own variant sooner or later” as the country has the second largest population infected with the virus.

The CCMB is one of the 10 labs, which is conducting genome sequencing of the Covid-positive samples of UK returnees. 

The Union Ministry of Health Affairs Wednesday said 20 samples were found to be positive with the UK Covid variant.

Seven samples in Bengaluru, two in CCMB, eight in National Centre for Disease Control, Delhi, and one sample each in National Institute of Virology, Pune, in National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, West Bengal, and CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi, were found positive.

According to a statement from the health ministry Tuesday, all the patients have been kept in single-room isolation in “designated healthcare facilities by respective state governments”, and their close contacts put under quarantine. 

The new Covid variant has sparked fears since experts consider it to be 70 per cent more transmissible than the previous strain.

In an interview, Mishra told ThePrint the new variant can infect double the people at the same time as the virus multiplies easily. This is because the virus catches the surface of the epithelial cells and enters the cells more efficiently, he added.

Mishra said India could see a spread of the new strain of the virus up to the secondary and territory levels as the country has not been able to trace all the UK returnees yet. 

While the health ministry’s statement said two samples from the CCMB had the new variant, Mishra said three samples were found positive with the UK Covid strain — two from Telangana and one from Andhra Pradesh.

“To be very honest, I am surprised that only three samples have the new UK variant. In the UK, the spread is almost 60 per cent. By that count, we should have had at least 10 samples with the similar variant here with us,” he said.

“Certainly, hundreds of them have come from the UK. We are going to have a large number (of cases with the UK variant). It will be something like 50 or 100 from the beginning itself as they may have interacted (with people) and we will see the secondary, territory spread,” he added.

Of the mutations in the genetic material of the new variant, eight of them affect its spike protein, which expresses on its outer surface, and binds to the ACE receptors in the host cells, said Mishra.

One of the mutations is believed to enhance the binding between the virus and the receptors, thus, facilitating its entry into the host cells, according to a CCMB statement issued Tuesday.

The CCMB also found that the people infected with the new variant make more number of viral particles, which means they are shedding more — contributing to a faster spread, said Mishra.

Read more