As many as 168 scientists from various research and teaching institutions across the country have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make coronavirus-related genomic and testing data public.

In an open appeal to the prime minister, the scientists have said that India’s inability to manage the spread of the infection has to a large extent resulted from epidemiological data not being systematically collected and released in a timely manner to the scientific community.

The scientists have asked the prime minister to allow access to granular testing data that the Indian Council of Medical Research has been collating since the beginning of the pandemic. They pointed out that the information was not accessible to anyone outside the government, and even to most scientists within it.

The appeal also asked for large-scale collection of surveillance data based on genome-sequencing of the coronavirus, adding that the information should be released in the public domain.

“The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), established for genomic surveillance, is only sequencing the coronavirus from about 1% of infected individuals,” the signatories noted.

It said that increase of sequencing volume and collection of clinical data from the infected individuals were crucial to understanding whether a mutated virus was more virulent. Besides, the scientists said that access to clinical data was required for estimation of the requirements for oxygen, medical supplies, ventilators, Intensive Care Unit beds and other health facilities.

The group of scientists urged Modi to lift restrictions on the import of scientific equipment and reagents, put into effect under the central government’s flagship self-reliance policy “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”. The scientists said that the restrictions have reduced their ability to scale up testing by developing new testing platforms and has affected their ability to sequence viral genomes for surveillance rapidly and accurately.

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