A forum of scientific advisers set up by the government warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country, five scientists who are part of the forum told Reuters.
Despite the warning, four of the scientists said the federal government did not seek to impose major restrictions to stop the spread of the virus. Millions of largely unmasked people attended religious festivals and political rallies that were held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition politicians.
The warning about the new variant in early March was issued by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium, or INSACOG. It was conveyed to a top official who reports directly to the prime minister, according to one of the scientists, the director of a research centre in northern India who spoke on condition of anonymity. Reuters could not determine whether the INSACOG findings were passed on to Modi himself.
INSACOG was set up as a forum of scientific advisers by the government in late December specifically to detect genomic variants of the coronavirus that might threaten public health. INSACOG brings together 10 national laboratories capable of studying virus variants. INSACOG researchers first detected B.1.617, which is now known as the Indian variant of the virus, as early as February, Ajay Parida, director of the state-run Institute of Life Sciences and a member of INSACOG, told Reuters.
INSACOG shared its findings with the health ministry’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) before March 10, warning that infections could quickly increase in parts of the country, the director of the northern India research centre told Reuters. The findings were then passed on to the Indian health ministry, this person said. The health ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
“Policy has to be based on evidence and not the other way around,” he told Reuters. “I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists we provide the evidence, policymaking is the job of the government.”
I never saw any report which said numbers will go very high said Biotech Secy to Economic Times on May 6, 2021. She added, The person who has said it is not a member of the scientific advisory group. He is a former director (superannuated on April 30 (possibly DR Rakesh Mishra as the director of the CCMB)) of an institute, which is part of the INSACOG. Please note that all reporting is done by this core group. I also don’t understand the word ‘warning’ at all. There is information given from INSACOG to NCDC — to be clinically correlated with states and this has been going on regularly. My department is leading the INSACOG initiative and I never saw any such report which said that numbers will go very high or rise exponentially. We don’t have an algorithm that tells us of the increase in numbers or the severity. What data tells us is that a variant has come in, it needs to be watched, circulated and this information has throughout been shared with states. Making such irresponsible statements, especially as people are aware of what scientific tools tell us and what they don’t, is not a correct thing.