India to step up surveillance for new variants as COVID-19 cases increase elsewhere

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India’s government has asked all states to step up surveillance for any new variants of the coronavirus, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases in China and elsewhere.

India has reported the most COVID cases in the world after the United States but its tally of confirmed infections has fallen sharply in the past few months.

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A recent surge of infections in neighboring China after it ended its strict COVID restrictions has led to concern that new variants could emerge.

“In view of the sudden spurt of cases being witnessed in Japan, the United States of America, Republic of Korea, Brazil and China, it is essential to gear up the whole genome sequencing of positive case samples,” Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a letter to states on Tuesday.

“Such an exercise will enable timely detection of newer variants, if any.”

Data from the World Health Organization shows that infections have inched up in Japan, Korea, the United States, France and Brazil in recent days.

The government has asked all states to ensure that samples of all positive cases are sent to the 54 designated genome sequencing laboratories.

Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya will meet senior officials on Wednesday to review the situation, his ministry said.

Mandaviya has also asked participants in a cross-country march organized by the opposition Congress party to ensure they are vaccinated and follow safety measures like wearing masks.

India is recording about 1,200 new infections a week. Globally some 3.5 million cases are being recorded every week.

The country of nearly 1.4 billion people has administered more than 2.2 billion COVID vaccine doses.

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