LAHORE: The Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department has uploaded its fresh study on a UK-based global website to update the world that Pakistan, particularly Punjab, has been facing circulation of multiple strains of coronavirus with visible dominance of the UK-variant.

The study was carried out by virologists, health and medical experts at the Punjab Public Health Reference Laboratory (PPHRL). “In February 2021, the PPHRL had installed Next Generation Sequencer to elucidate ongoing impacts of SARS-CoV2 surge in Pakistan, whereby we developed a strategy to screen out Gene Target Failure (GTF) among confirmed SARS-CoV2 cases”, the study reads.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARSCoV2) is the virus that causes Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), the respiratory illness responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic.

A first batch (mid of Feb 2021) of targeted sequencing was performed to understand virus behavior w.r.t strain and variant findings. The target population of the study was suspected cases from all districts of Punjab.

“In mid to last week of Feb 2021, based on PCR panel screening S gene Target Failure (SGTF) was observed in 50% of Punjab population (with most cases in Lahore, Gujrat, Okara and Jhelum). Later, we observed surge in confirm cases of SGTF with up to & gt;75% circulation, which headed the way towards confirmation of UK variant cases,” reads the report.

“We found UK variant in & gt;90% sequenced cases with some novel mutations”, the study said.

Aforementioned mutations showed that PPHRL has been conducting SARS-CoV-2 strain surveillance to build a collection of SARS-CoV-2 specimens and sequences to support public health response.

It said the routine analysis of the available genetic sequence data will enable health department and its public health partners to identify variant viruses for further characterization.

Viruses generally acquire mutations over time, giving rise to new variants. For instance, another variant recently emerged in Nigeria & triple Indian mutant.

The PPHRL is also monitoring this strain but, at this time, it has shown no concerning characteristics to public health experts.

There is already evidence that one mutation, D614G, confers increased ability to spread more quickly than the wild-type SARS-CoV-2.

A variant of SARS-CoV-2 with a D614G substitution in the gene encoding the spike protein emerged in late January or early February 2020.

Over a period of several months, the D614G mutation replaced the initial SARS-CoV-2 strain identified in China and by June 2020 became the dominant form of the virus circulating globally.

“In the laboratory, 614G variants propagate more quickly in human respiratory epithelial cells, outcompeting 614D viruses”, the report reads.

There is also epidemiologic evidence that the 614G variant spreads more quickly than viruses without the mutation.

The D614G variant is believed to have increased the ability of the virus to be transmitted and was the most common type circulating in the UK.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2021

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