Bihar goes slow on Omicron testing, lone lab runs out of reagents
The molecular biology laboratory at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS), Bihar’s lone setup approved by the Indian SARS CoV-2 Consortium of Genomic Sequencing (INSACOG) for whole genomic sequencing, a test to ascertain the strain of coronavirus, has run out of reagents. This has slowed down the process to ascertain the strain of coronavirus, despite Omicron having reached the community spread stage, said officials familiar with the development.
The other reason for the slow detection of the Omicron variant among the Covid-19 samples is the absence of the S-Gene Target Failure (SGTF), the S-Gene Mutation Amplification (SGMA) or the SARS-CoV-2 RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) diagnostic kits at government facilities, said scientists aware of the development.
The Tata Medical and Diagnostics has developed a kit ‘OmiSure’ that claims to detect the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has already approved the kit.
Besides being cheap, the kit, which costs ₹250, can give result within four hours while the whole genomic sequencing takes 7-10 days and its reagents cost ₹12-15 lakh for one round of test in which a maximum of 96 samples can be tested.
Bihar is yet to buy the kit in absence of directions from the ICMR, said officials quoted above. The Odisha government, however, has already placed orders for procuring 5 lakh kits, said a representative of the company.
Bihar, on its part, placed orders last week to purchase reagents for genomic sequencing at the IGIMS and is waiting for them to arrive. It also awaits the Centre’s approval to its recommendation to allow a private laboratory to conduct SGTF test.
“We are awaiting approval from the competent authority after having recommended a private laboratory, which applied for permission to conduct the [SGTF] test,” Pratyaya Amrit, Bihar’s additional chief secretary, health, had said during a press conference on January 18.
He, however, did not respond to this reporter’s text message on Monday if the state government was getting the SGTF kits for quick detection of the Covid-19 strain.
Sanjay Kumar Singh, managing director of the Bihar Medical Services Infrastructure Company Limited (BMSICL), tasked with infrastructure upkeep and purchases at government health facilities, also did not respond to calls or text message in this regard on Monday.
“After two rounds of genomic sequencing at the IGIMS, indications are that Omicron is the predominant strain in Bihar,” Amrit had then said.
Epidemiologists now say that Omicron has reached the community-spread stage in the state.
Omicron was found in 93% (67) of the 72 samples so far tested at the IGIMS in two rounds of genomic sequencing on January 9 and 18.
The ICMR-Rajendra Memorial Research Institute of Medical Sciences (RMRIMS) also awaits the Centre’s decision after it requested its head office in New Delhi last December to allow it to have a genomic sequencing set up at its bio-safety level 2-plus laboratory in Patna.
While the ICMR was yet to respond to its request, government sources said the WHO had shown interest to support it by installing a genomic sequencing setup at RMRIMS, Patna.
The state government early this month decided to install an additional genome sequencing setup at the IGIMS. The procurement and installation of the apparatus will, however, take some time, despite Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar having shown interest in it.
“Genetic sequencing is done for sentinel surveillance of the Covid-19 virus and is a more accurate method to track its variants. It identifies the exact presence of Omicron sub-variant (BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, etc.). The BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron is predominant in Bihar. However, sequencing has the drawback of being slow, which means it is not suitable for monitoring a rapidly spreading variant,” said Dr Prabhat Kumar Sinha, visiting professor (research), IGIMS, and a former scientist G of ICMR-RMRIMS, Patna.
With 1,821 new infections of SARS-CoV-2 on Sunday, Bihar ranked 21st in terms of new infections added among Indian states and union territories. Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra were the top three.
New cases have come down from the month’s peak of 6,541 reported on January 14. The total tally of active cases was 14,833, as per a government health bulletin released on Monday. The state’s positivity rate, which is the number of samples testing positive for Covid-19 out of the total tests done, had gone down to 1.73% on Sunday, while that of Patna was 8.20%, as it reported 224 cases, the highest among Bihar’s 38 districts during the day.