In a development that has set alarm bells ringing in the Sikkim government, the highly-transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 was detected in 97 out of the 98 samples sent by the state for genome sequencing.
The Delta variant has been identified as primarily responsible for the second wave of Covid infections in the country that pushed up daily case counts and death numbers.
Sikkim Health Minister M K Sharma said randomly selected samples were sent to a laboratory in Kalyani, West Bengal, for genome sequencing.
“On June 23, we sent 98 samples to the laboratory in West Bengal. They have sent us the results via email and the Delta variant was detected in 97 of those samples. We are concerned about this widespread presence of this highly transmissible variant,” Mr Sharma said.
At a time when the Covid positivity rate in most parts of the country has dropped below 1 per cent, Sikkim has reported an average positivity rate of above 18 per cent in July so far.
Covid positivity rate is a percentage of total samples tested that turn out to be positive and is a key indicator of the spread of the disease in a community.
Sikkim, which has a population of about 7 lakh, has so far been able to fully vaccinate less than 20 per cent of the population. Over 4.65 lakh first doses and 1.36 lakh second doses have been administered in the state, as per Union Health Ministry data.
Sikkim is not alone. Several other states in the Northeast are struggling to tackle the prolonged second wave of Covid in the region and the Delta variant is believed to be the reason.
Dr Gayatri Gogoi, assistant professor with Assam Medical College and a researcher for Indian Council of Medical Research said that in a recent study with 6,000 samples, 18 per cent breakthrough infections were found.
Breakthrough infections refer to infections despite vaccination. “Delta variant is very prevalent in the Northeast and we also have a reported instance in which both Alpha and Delta variants were present,” she said.
The prolonged second wave has compelled states to impose strict curbs to stem the spread of infection. Manipur is on a 10-day lockdown and Tripura has imposed a weekend curfew and a day curfew in Agartala and several other areas. Assam too has put curbs in place in several areas.
Dr Navanil Barua, director (neurosurgery) at GNRC, said, “We need to actually worry. Are we facing a third wave or will this second wave merge into a third wave?”