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healthcare | IST

COVID-19: Dr Anurag Agarwal says AY.4.2 is for monitoring, not something to panic about

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The second wave was caused by Delta and it has not gone away completely, but a very large fraction of the population has become relatively immune to it, says Dr Anurag Agarwal, Director of the CSIR - Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology.

A mutation AY 4.2 belonging to the Delta Plus lineage has been found in India and is under investigation. Six states including Maharashtra, Karnataka Andhra Pradesh, Kerala Telangana, Jammu and Kashmir have reported cases of the new variant mutant, which is deemed to be more contagious than the Delta variant. The AY 4.2 variant has grown steadily across European countries though it has not been designated a 'variant of concern' by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The UK health authorities have found over 15,000 cases of the A.Y 4.2 since it was first detected in July.
So what should we make of what is happening globally? And what should we make of this sub-lineage -- AY 4.2 -- that has now emerged as a possible variant of concern? To discuss this, CNBC-TV18 caught up Dr Anurag Agarwal, Director of the CSIR - Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology.
Dr Agarwal is of the clear view that in India, we are at the tail of the second wave but the virus is very much here and so while we can let our guard down somewhat, there is no room for complacency.
He said, the second wave was caused by Delta and it has not gone away completely, but a very large fraction of the population has become relatively immune to it, partly by infection, partly by vaccination, and in many people a combination of infection followed by vaccination.
“This means that for the time being for the Delta lineages, we have robust immunity, and the caseload is down,” he said, but cautioned that it is not an assurance for individuals who may still get infected. And nothing can ever prepare you for a very big change in the virus, which does not seem likely right now.
On the AY.4.2 variant, he said, “There is a bit of confusion on this - all AY.x - AY stands for B.1.617.2 and dot x are further sub-lineages after it. AY is what hit Delhi in April. All the sub-lineages are at least Delta, which means they are from the point of view of concern. They are variants that can spread as well as Delta. They are all VOCs in that category.“
Now, AY.4.2, on October 22 as released by Public Health England, in which they point out it's been slowly gaining against other lineages of delta and they sequence a lot. And AY.4 is the background variant and AY.4.2 has been growing slowly, he said, adding that they point out in the very same release that is being misquoted in the papers. The attack rate which is 12 percent versus 11.5 percent is actually not statistically higher, the severity of the disease is not. In their own paper, they say at the end, that while there is a possibility it might be slightly more transmissible at this moment, they have no biological reason, or any other evidence to support that and it is something for monitoring and tracking, not for panic.
“AY.4.2 as classified by machine learning algorithms, trained on British data, when applied to international data also picking up other things. So, always seeing all the mutations that we are supposed to see and very importantly, the particular mutation at one side is below what we call a primer NPCR which means false, missing and positives are all a problem. So, even what we have in India, AY.4.2, only some of them will be real, some of them will not. This entire AY.x business is a little bit overstated right now,” said Dr Agarwal.
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It appears that the most likely Delta came from India. So, we have the largest diversity probably in the world. Then we are training machine learning AI systems on the versions of the delta which are narrower than India's versions seen abroad because they sequence more than us. Then we take those classifications and apply them back to India. So there will be some error. So don't worry too much about it is what I would say, he reassured.
India has reported more than 16,000 cases in the last 24 hours. The daily death toll stands at 733 and that is because Kerala has added 529 deaths and that happened earlier due to the reconciliation of its COVID death tally.
The vaccination drive continues at a seven-day average of about 55 lakh doses. The pace has picked up today with close to 52 lakh doses administered as of 4 pm. That compares with just over 49 lakh doses administered by the end of the day yesterday. So far, 54.3 percent of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, while 23.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
The Delhi sixth Sero Survey reveals 90 percent of those tested have developed antibodies against COVID-19. The last seeder survey conducted in January had shown antibodies in over 56 percent of people. The latest exercise was conducted in the last week of September with 28,000 blood samples collected from across 280 Civic Wards. Seropositivity rate in every district is more than 85 percent and more women were found zero positive as compared to men.
Globally, according to the WHO, the European region has recorded an 18 percent increase in COVID cases over the last week; that is the fourth straight weekly increase for the region. In Asia, the city-state of Singapore has reported 1,324 new cases of COVID on Wednesday, which is the most since the beginning of the pandemic. China border cities in the Northeast have restricted travel and gatherings in public spaces as the country combats a COVID outbreak in the north.
For the full interview, watch the accompanying video