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Devotees gather to offer prayers during the third 'Shahi Snan' of the Kumbh Mela 2021, in Haridwar on 14 April 2021 | PTI

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Highly infectious COVID mutant strain was circulating in Uttarakhand before Kumbh Mela

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The double mutant strain of COVID virus was circulating in Uttarakhand before the Maha Kumbh Mela began in Haridwar on 1 April, says The Print report. Detecting a total of six cases of various strain, The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) returned samples from the state on Monday, says the report.

According to doctors in Dehradun's Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL) "Three of the six are of the double mutant strain (B.1.6.1.7), two are of the UK strain (B.1.1.7), and one is of an unknown "variant under investigation (VUI)".

The VRDL is funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to investigate and keep a track on viral outbreaks

The samples had been sent to the NCDC at the end of March- days before the beginning of the Kumbh Mela, which was attended by millions of people.

The particular mutations on the spike protein of the double mutant strain — called E484Q and L452R — "confer immune escape and increased infectivity", the Ministry of Health had said in a statement earlier.

The report quotes Dr Deepal Juyal who is the co-investigator at the VRDL saying that "there will be several implications, since the strain was already circulating when the Kumbh Mela began,"

According to Juyal the new variant is "not only is it highly infectious, it is also an immune escape variant."

Uttarakhand has seen an over seven-fold rise in cases since the Kumbh Mela began. On 31 March, the state had registered 293 cases, which went up to 2,160 as on 19 April.

The double mutant strain was first detected by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) on 24 March.

On 10 April, the National Institute of Virology found that 61 per cent of the samples it had received belonged to the double mutant strain.

Meanwhile, the government has maintained that the double mutant strain is not a "variant of concern" (VOC), and that it is still a variant of interest that is under investigation. In a statement on 17 April, the health ministry said "higher transmissibility of this (double mutant) variant is not established as yet". But several experts have disagreed.

The VOCs recognised by the government include the UK, South Africa, and Brazil variants.

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TAGS:Kumbh Mela 2021 Covid Updates Haridwar 
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