Congress MP Rahul Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, urging him to “scientifically track the virus and its mutations” and cautioning him against allowing mutated versions of the SARS-CoV2 virus from spreading unchecked through the country.
Mr Gandhi reminded the Prime Minister of the population size and genetic diversity of India – which has emerged as the global epicentre of the pandemic – and warned him that unless the centre did everything in its power to stop the virus, double and triple mutant strains “are only the beginning”.
“India is home to one out of every six human beings… pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India a fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form,” he wrote.
“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of this virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also the rest of the world,” he added.
Mr Gandhi also said the centre’s “lack of a clear and coherent Covid and vaccination strategy, as well as its hubris in declaring premature victory… has placed India in a highly dangerous position” and that “another devastating national lockdown is almost inevitable”.
He said it was “absolutely critical” for the centre to address three issues.
“Scientifically track the virus and mutations using genome sequencing, dynamically assess efficiency of all vaccines against all new mutations, and rapidly vaccinate our entire population.”
Mr Gandhi’s letter comes as India struggles to contain a devastating second wave of Covid infections. This morning the country reported over four lakh new cases in the previous 24 hours.
Active cases are now over 35.6 lakh – well over 3.5 times the earlier record high.
Experts believe the second wave has been driven, in large part, by mutated variants – such as those from the UK, and double and triple mutations found in Delhi, Maharashtra, Bengal and other states.
The double mutant shows an increased transmission rate and can affect children too.
How infectious the triple mutation is, or how deadly it is, is still unclear and requires further study. But there are only 10 labs in India that are involved in virus genome studies.
For now, the centre has classified it as a “variant of interest”, rather than “variant of concern”.
The mutations have also led to increased urgency in vaccinating people; India launched its vaccination drive in January, but it has stalled in recent weeks over a shortage of doses.
Vaccine manufacturers Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech have struggled to keep pace with the demand, but the centre last month released additional funds to help them scale up production.
Starting May 1, the centre has allowed everyone over 18 to get vaccinated.
Mr Gandhi also called on the centre to “act with compassion” and provide critical financial and food support to vulnerable groups who remain badly affected by the lockdown from March last year.
On Wednesday Mr Gandhi attacked the centre over lack of transparency in foreign aid contributions; India received hundreds of tonnes but questions have been raised over distribution.
Last week the centre issued some clarifications on this matter, saying the delay was due to “compatibility problems” and logistical issues in distribution.