Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday said Covid-19 variant B.1.617, which was first detected in India, is the most common mutation detected till now.

“Till now, 25,739 samples have been [genome] sequenced,” he said at a Group of Ministers meeting. “Out of this, 9,508 samples have been found to have ‘variants of concern’ in the country. This variant, B.1.617, has been found in 5,271 samples, which is almost 65%, making it one of the most common mutation that has been detected till now.”

The health minister also said that state governments have been requested to send samples regularly for genome sequencing. In India, genome sequencing is being done by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortia, which is a group of 10 institutes.

The World Health Organization has classified B.1.617 as a “variant of concern”. This category also includes mutations first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.

The B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer “spike” portion of the virus that attaches to human cells. The World Health Organization has said the predominant lineage of B.1.617 was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020.

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Rise in ‘black fungus’ cases

In his address, Vardhan also said that there has been a rise in mucormycosis or “black fungus” cases in various states. Black fungus is caused by a fungus named mucor, which is found on wet surfaces. The symptoms of the infection include headache, fever, pain under the eyes, nasal or sinus congestion, and partial loss of vision, among others.

The Centre has taken several steps to tackle this, he said, noting that the government has asked states to declare mucormycosis a notifiable disease under the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897. “Nineteen states have so far issued the notification and made it a notifiable disease,” he added.

The move would mean that medical facilities will have to report all suspected and confirmed cases to the health department of the respective states. Medical superintendents of all private and government hospitals will have to send a daily report about cases of “black fungus” to the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.

Till Monday morning, 5,424 cases of mucormycosis were reported from 18 states, Vardhan said. The maximum number of cases have been reported from Gujarat with 2,292 infections, followed by Maharashtra with 1,188, Uttar Pradesh with 663, Madhya Pradesh with 519, Haryana with 339 and Andhra Pradesh with 248.

The health minister added that there were concerns in India about the availability of Amphotericin-B, the drug used to treat the fungal infection. He said the government and pharmaceutical companies have already ordered 9 lakh vials of the drug. He said 50,000 vials have been received and 3 lakh more would be delivered in the next seven days.

‘Sustained fall in active cases’

The health minister noted that India has been reporting less than 3 lakh daily Covid-19 infections for eight straight days. He said that there has been a “sustained fall” in active cases from 37 lakh to almost 27 lakh now.

India on Monday reported 2,22,315 new coronavirus cases, taking the infection tally to 2,67,52,447 since the pandemic first broke out in January 2020. The toll climbed by 4,454 to 3,03,720. With this, India is now the third country in the world, after the United States and Brazil, to log over 3 lakh deaths. There are 27,20,716 active cases and 2,37,28,011 patients have recovered from the infection so far in India.

The health minister said that some states were reporting a high positivity rate. These include Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Puducherry, Goa, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim and Lakshadweep.