Omicron Threat: Assam mulls setting up genome sequencing lab in Guwahati

Guwahati: Amid the threat posed by the ‘Variant of Concern’ – Omicron, the Assam government is contemplating setting up a genomic sequencing laboratory at the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) in a bid to boost the testing and tracking infrastructure in the state.

Assam health minister Keshab Mahanta, accompanied by a team of virologists, visited the Jorhat-based North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST) on Wednesday and discussed the matter with the authorities and scientists at the institute.

In mid-2020, a COVID-19 testing laboratory was established in the Jorhat campus of the North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST). It may be mentioned that the institute’s Biotechnology Division has been playing a pivotal role in carrying out RT-PCR-based COVID-19 tests.

“Assam has been consistently fighting against COVID-19 and all preventive measures are in force to protect the citizens from the virus. Considering the emergence of the Omicron variant in the country, we have beefed up measures in our state,” Mahanta said.

The minister met CSIR-NEIST director Dr G Narahari Shastry in the presence of the National Health Mission Assam managing director and deliberated on enhancing the state’s medical infrastructure, including setting up a COVID-testing laboratory in Guwahati, and other facilities for better diagnosis.

The deliberations have been prompted by the growing need and importance of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing in the Northeast, keeping the Omicron scare in context.

The minister and virologists also visited the advanced molecular laboratory of NEIST.

Genome sequencing helps researchers identify variants that spread to new regions. Scientists have been using genome sequencing to track SARS-CoV-2 almost in real-time since the onset of the pandemic.

India has already recorded over 900 Omicron cases, with 21 states in the country reporting increasing cases of Omicron over the past few days.
There is great concern in the Northeast with an Omicron case detected in Manipur recently.

A 48-year-old Africa returnee to Manipur had tested positive for Omicron after his sample was sent for genome sequencing.

Three other contacts of the person have also tested positive for COVID-19, but their genome sequencing results are awaited.

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