Absence of Genome Sequencing hampers fight against COVID19 in J&K

‘Installation of 2 machines to ramp up Genome Sequencing soon’
Absence of Genome Sequencing hampers fight against COVID19 in J&K
A health worker takes a swab sample for COVID-19 testing in Kashmir. [Representational Image] Mubashir Khan/GK File

Srinagar: Absence of Genome Sequencing facility in J&K is resulting in limited analysis of positive samples and weeks of delay in ascertaining the nature of spread, thereby hampering the COVID19 mitigation efforts, experts say.

On Tuesday, J&K received Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) reports of samples it had sent to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) on December 22, three weeks later. By the time the analysis of the variant infecting the samples sent was received, the people had even recovered from the infection and tested negative.

WGS is meant to help the government get an estimate of the circulating variants in the community and devise pandemic mitigation strategies. A senior health official said that if Genome Sequencing is carried out in real-time and a representative number of samples are analysed, it can help in devising better containment strategies.

“What is the point of knowing now what the spread of Omicron was in Kashmir around December 20. We should have known at that time only,” the senior official said while wishing anonymity.

In the past year, the J & K Government has many times announced that WGS facilities would be set up in both Jammu and Kashmir. However, the UT is still dependent on the network of labs outside J&K, currently over-burdened with samples from many states.

Additional Chief Secretary J&K Government, Health and Medical Education Vivek Bhardwaj said that two Genome Sequencing equipment had been ordered after being tendered.

“The machines will be delivered very shortly and we will have the facility functional shortly in both the divisions soon,” he said. However, he said at present the role of WGS was “very limited”. “Even without sequencing, we know it is mostly Omicron now,” he said while referring to the fast-spreading nature of the Variant.

On December 21, three cases of Omicron were confirmed in the Jammu division, 21 days after the samples had been sent for sequencing. Similarly, in Kashmir, there was a time-lapse of 21 days between sampling and WGS of the five Omicron cases confirmed on Tuesday.

As per the earlier announcement of the Government, the Genome Sequencing facilities would be set up at SKIMS Soura and GMC Jammu. In the past few months, many states in India have set up WGS labs. Currently, INSACOG is a network of 38 laboratories, a significant increase in the number of participating Institutes that began as a group of 10 labs. Samples from J&K are tested at the National Council of Disease Control Delhi.

Greater Kashmir