Dr Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary Dept Of Science & Technology, speaks to NewsX’s Managing Editor on an indigenously developed kit that would be cheaper and tests could be done in no time.
Q. Can you tell us about the concept of an indigenous testing kit that I am told can do the test in a matter of minutes, is far cheaper. How is this being developed, where is this being developed?
A. This is indeed very positive news. Testing at a large scale and speed is one of the requirements today. So, what we need is a test that can give us the results quickly and inexpensively, and that is what Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology in Thiruvananthapuram is doing. We have a biomedical research wing that was set up about 4 years ago to make biomedical devices, because India imports a lot of them. And this was an opportunity to build on that platform. The test is called RTLAMP. The test we use currently is called RTPCR. RTPCR is the gold standard in testing, which means you can’t get false positives or false negatives with it. Hundred per cent accuracy. This particular test (RTLAMP) is equally accurate. It has no false positives, no false negatives. The score of RTLAMP tallies 100% with RTPCR. This is a very unique experiment for India. In fact, it is among the first in the world.
Q. Does this (RTLAMP) also require an RNA sequencing machine?
A. It is not a sequencing machine. There is a gene and there are 2 sequences in that gene, called N-gene. It picks up 2 fragments which are unique signatures of the virus. So, if you match both of them, this is basically the SARS-Cov2 virus. It’s a confirmatory test, you don’t need any test before or after. Once you’re done, you know whether you have the virus or not.
Q. How is this particularly different from the RTPCR test?
A. The sample preparation is similar, but there is also a new innovation here. So, you can make it much faster and more concentrated in removing RNA from there. First, you break the virus, deactivate it, and then remove RNA from there, and concentrate it so that the test can go faster. The way you concentrate RNA is an interesting innovation. You put in magnetic nanoparticles, which go and stick to the RNA fragments. Using a magnet, you can pull all RNA fragments in one place.
Q. Are the magnetic nanoparticles actually sticking to the particular part of the RNA which is distinctive for nCov2?
A. No. They’re basically pulling the entire RNA strand. They’re sticking to the RNA strands and can be pulled in one corner, hence concentrating it. Once you start with something concentrated, you can amplify it. The amplification process in this is much faster. The detection of these two domains, the fragments of the gene which are unique to the virus, is much faster. In about 10 minutes, you get a confirmatory test. The whole process takes about 2 hours. This is different from PCR, where the test in itself takes several hours. In this particular platform, on the other hand, you can do 30 tests together. In 10 minutes, you have 1 machine, and you have 30 tests. Imagine in a day, if you’re running 2 shifts or 3 shifts, you’re running about a thousand samples – in 1 day and using 1 machine.
Q. Will the machine be different, or is it the same machine?
A. No, it is a completely different machine. It’s based on fluorescence, and the amplification process is different, which is why it’s faster. It starts with a more concentrated RNA soup. There are a whole lot of things which basically add up to the speed. The great thing about this is it’s never been done before. The reason they could do it before anyone else in the world is because they were testing this platform for TB diagnosis. Before the virus came around, they were already working on this platform. They had developed it, but they were looking at the rapid diagnosis of TB.
Q. Is that the magnetic nanoparticle side – was that the test that was happening for TB?
A. No, this is a platform for TB testing which is looking at the sequence of genes. It’s a different sequence for every microbe, bacteria, virus. It’s a different signature which you have to pick up. The same platform was prepared with a few changes and tweaking. We already had the infrastructure and people in place.
Q. What is the next step?
A. ICMR refers any new test to National Institute of Virology. They ran more than 50- 100 samples on it. They then validated this test against RTPCR. The report has now gone back to ICMR, they’re working to give formal approval on it.
Q. How much of a game-changer would this be?
A. There is already a tie-up with a company. Several more companies are coming on board to have greater scale. By the end of May, we should have 500 machines functioning. Which means 1,000 tests per day from 500 machines. Five lakh tests per day will be possible by the end of May. By the end of June, there will be at least 1,000 other machines. The cost of the machine is about Rs 2.5 lakh and may go down further. The cost of PCR is Rs 15 lakh and upwards, and PCR does about 15 tests a day. Imagine that versus 1,000 tests a day. For the cost of a PCR machine, you get seven of these test machines.
Q. You said it will take a month to scale to 1-2 lakhs per day. How much can we do within a more reasonable timeframe?
A. In a day, we have to really push it, in 2-3 shifts. We would do a 1,000 tests per day on a single machine. If you have a hundred machines, that’s 1 lakh tests per day. So, 7 lakh tests in one week will be tested by 100 machines.
Q. Our current testing capacity has just touched the 40,000 mark. That gives us perspective of how much value addition this would be.
A. You could even use this test before flying. There are multiple applications for this test. It can be used on people getting into crowded spaces, they could be prevented from transmitting the disease.
Q. Does the sampling procedure use a cotton swab?
A. Yes. The sample is collected the same way. Even here, there is innovation. The sticks that we use are mostly imported. Now, they’ve been designed with a polymer which has the right kind of flexibility. All of it is going to be made in India. Q. When did this project start?
A. They started looking at it about 3-4 weeks ago. They were optimistic. We told them – look, you already have the capacity, the people, the technology, the platform. Why not just put in this virus in there? And I think it worked. They worked very hard on it. It is very important to have the right people and the right knowledge base. Everything came together in this case.
Q. Is there any key part or key technology that can still be a stumbling block?
A. Few of these parts have to be imported, but we are tying up all of those supply lines. We are also approaching MSMEs and other people in the country to see if they can make these parts. These things have a global supply chain. Everything high-tech that any country makes, there are always some parts that are imported. Because they aren’t used in large numbers. It’s not because of technology, we could make these parts. The country didn’t make them because they probably weren’t required in large numbers before this. But once you have a good market, somebody will make them.
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STERLING’S STRIKE HELPS ENGLAND DEFEAT CROATIA
Raheem Sterling, center, celebrates after scoring goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship match between England and Croatia at Wembley stadium in London.
A thunderous goal from Raheem Sterling helped England defeat Croatia 1-0 in the Group D encounter of the ongoing European Championships here at the Wembley Stadium on Sunday. England managed to gain full three points from the match against Croatia and now the Three Lions will lock horns against Scotland on June 18 while Croatia will square off against Czech Republic on the same day.
The first half between England and Croatia saw no goals and as a result, the scoreline remained 0-0 at halftime. In the first half, England held on to the ball for 58 per cent of the match, while Croatia held on to it for 42 per cent. The deadlock was finally broken in the 57th minute as Raheem Sterling registered the goal for England. This was Sterling’s first goal at a major tournament. Kalvin Phillips made a stunning run as he beat two players and then he went on to pass the ball to Sterling, and he did not disappoint and successfully netted the ball into the goalpost.No more goals were possible in the match, and in the end, England went away with a 1-0 victory. Austria will lock horns against North Macedonia while in another match, Netherlands and Ukraine will be squaring off against each other.
Mizoram man who headed world’s largest family dies
Ziona Chana, the man from Mizoram believed to head the world’s largest family with at least 39 wives and 94 children and 33 grandchildren, died on Sunday at the age 76.
Taking to Twitter, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga on Sunday bid farewell to him. “With heavy heart, Mizoram bid farewell to Mr. Zion-a (76), believed to head the world’s largest family, with 38 wives and 89 children. Mizoram and his village at Baktawng Tlangnuam has become a major tourist attraction in the state because of the family. Rest in Peace Sir!” he tweeted along with a group picture of the huge family.
Zion-a featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not in 2011 and 2013 for having the world’s largest family.
He reportedly lived with his family in a large 100-room, four-story building.
We will be part of the next Union cabinet expansion: JD-U chief
Amid the speculations of the Union Cabinet expansion, R.C.P. Singh, National president of the NDA-ally Janata Dal (United) on Sunday said that JDU is part of the alliance of the ruling NDA coalition at the Centre and the party will be part of the Cabinet whenever there is an expansion.
“There is no confusion. We are a part of NDA. Whenever there will be an expansion in the cabinet in Centre, JD (U) will be part of it,” he said.
At present, the JD(U) has no representation in the Union Cabinet. the JD(U) contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the BJP.
However, RCP Singh chose not to comment on the inclusion of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in the ‘cabinet expansion’.
Singh also mentioned that everything is good in the alliance in Bihar and there are no clashes in the NDA-led government in the state. “Everyone is together in the NDA in Bihar. The NDA government will complete its present term in Bihar. Everyone is working towards the development of the state,” the JD(U) chief said.
“The RJD is spreading rumours that nothing is good in the NDA to keep its MLA together. There is everything good in NDA but there are clashes in the RJD,” he added.
First three desi nuclear attack submarines to be 95% made in India
In what would be a major boost for the submarine building capability within the country, the first three nuclear attack submarines to be built indigenously would be having 95 per cent Made in India content in them and it would further go up in the next three. The Cabinet Committee on Security is considering a proposal worth around Rs 50,000 crore for indigenously building three nuclear attack submarines which would be built by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in Visakhapatnam. This project is separate from the Arihant class project under which six nuclear-powered submarines are being built with the capability of launching ballistic missiles.
“The nuclear attack submarine project would be a big boost for the indigenous submarine capability as 95 per cent of it would be made in India. This would provide a big boost to the domestic defence sector including both private and public sector,” government sources told ANI.
For the six nuclear attack submarines, the planners are confident that they would be able to complete the project without any external help but if required, they may take help of one of its strategic partner countries, they said.
The project would also be very helpful for the economy as it is expected to generate a large number of jobs in the defence sector, the sources said.
The Navy and DRDO would first get a clearance for three of these boats and will have the option of building three more after the completion of this project. The Indian Navy proposal to have six indigenous nuclear attack submarines was one of the first few major defence modernisation proposals to have been cleared by the Narendra Modi government soon after it came to power in 2014.
Even though marred by some delays, India has been making big headways in the field of indigenous submarine building capability. The first Arihant class boat was commissioned a few years ago and the second one INS Arighat is also undergoing sea trials and is expected to be commissioned in near future.
India has plans of building 24 submarines including six nuclear attack ones which would give it long legs to operate in the Indian Ocean Region and will help it to keep its adversaries in check at long distances.
The first six conventional boats are already under construction in Mumbai under the Kalavati class project while the tender for the next six with greater capability would be issued soon after recent clearance by the Defence Ministry. There is a plan to build six more conventional submarines under the Project 76 but it will take a long time to be initiated.
SECOND WAVE WASHES AWAY DABBAWALAS’ HOPES, FORCES THEM TO TAKE OTHER JOBS
Currently, many dabbawalas are jobless, some of them have returned to their villages while others had to find new ways to earn their livelihood. According to the members of the Mumbai Dabbawala Association, many bicycles can be seen outside railway stations in this lockdown but there are not as many dabbawalas.
The pandemic has brought a halt to their lives. Only some of them are working and delivering dabbas in hotels and hospitals while the rest are earning their livelihood through other means. Some dabbawalas have become auto drivers or are selling vegetables to earn money.
Mumbai’s 130-year-old dabba delivery system has over 5,000 dabbawalas like Kailash Shinde who now operates and provides dabbas for hotels and travels from Andheri to Malad to Borivali and Bandra.
Since trains are being used only for essential services, dabbawalas face a lot of problems in travelling. Due to the lockdown, the places have been shut where they used to deliver dabbas.
Subhash Talekar, President, Mumbai Dabbawala Association says “we demanded the state government to allow us to travel in local trains as essential workers are being allowed. We should also get a nod to commute in trains as it gets difficult to go by any other vehicle to far off places. Lockdown has affected our economy drastically”
A dabbawala told us how this lockdown has impacted his life. Kailash lives in a chawl system in Andheri with his wife and two children. The pandemic and the lockdown have caused a lot of damage to dabbawalas. Kailash showed us his house and opened up about the difficulties he is facing due to the lockdown.
He says, “Before the lockdown, I had a team of 18 people and used to earn from Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 from one house and had over 400 orders. But after the lockdown, I have a team of only three people and fewer orders. Now we get only Rs 5000 to Rs 6000 in which we have to survive as the money is divided among three people.”
Kailash and his wife earn to manage somehow and give good education to their children. His wife also works to support her husband and family, yet this is not enough.
Due to the pandemic, Kailash had to face commuting hurdles as half of the money earned goes into travelling. In an emotional appeal to the government, he says, “I request the government to look into the matter and allow us to travel in trains as the lockdown has greatly affected our economy. If trains are opened for dabbawalas, then it will be a ray of sunshine for them from the dark clouds of lockdown.”
Experts find no proof of 3rd wave hitting kids hard, but states in no mood to take chance
With 80,834 Covid-19 reported cases in the last 24 hours, India continued its declining trend of new infections and reported the lowest single-day count in 71 days, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said on Sunday.
The new cases pushed the Covid case tally in the country to 2,94,39,989. India has been witnessing a continuous fall in the active caseload and the current active number of Covid cases stands at 10,26,159 with a net decrease of 54,531 cases in the last 24 hours.
The weekly positivity rate further dropped to less than 5 per cent and currently stands at 4.74 per cent while the daily positivity rate stands at 4.25 per cent today. It has remained less than 10 per cent for 20 consecutive days now.
Despite the downward trend, most states seem to be gearing up for the anticipated third wave, especially on creating infrastructure for paediatric wards, given the buzz that the coming wave might hit kids particularly hard. In view of the pandemic, the states have kept the health budget of 8-14 % for the current year. The Delhi government allocated Rs 9,934 crore or 14% of the total budget to health. CM Arvind Kejriwal on 12 June cautioned that the chances of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic were quite real, while he asserted that his government was preparing on a “war-footing” to combat it.
The Kerala government allocated Rs 2,800 crore to deal with the health emergency. The third wave of Covid-19 is expected to arrive in October, necessitating a larger budget for Covid mitigation.
Bihar has kept Rs 13,264 crore on health this year. The health department has focused its attention on arranging beds with medical facilities for children who, experts fear, could be mostly affected in the third wave. Currently, there are 816 beds for children in the nine medical college hospitals in the state. Of these, only 225 have oxygen facilities.
Uttar Pradesh allocated 5.5 per cent of its total expenditure for health. CM Yogi Adityanath said that the state is now preparing for a probable third wave. Paediatric ICUs in district hospitals and mini-PICU in community health centres were being operationalised. A new 20-bed PICU has been planned for Deoria and a mini-PICU in Laar.
Incidentally, as the states gear up to ramp up their paediatric wards, a new report says that there’s no substantial evidence to suggest that children will be more affected or have greater illness severity in the anticipated third wave.
The Lancet Covid-19 Commission India Task Force prepared the report after convening an experts group comprising leading paediatricians from the country to examine the issue of ‘paediatric Covid-19’ in India. It said that the infection’s symptomatology in children in India appears to be globally comparable.
“Most children with Covid-19 are asymptomatic, and amongst those symptomatic mild infections are predominant. Most children have fever with respiratory symptoms, and often present with gastrointestinal symptoms and a typical manifestation compared to adults. The proportion of symptomatic children increases as age increases as does the severity in such age groups,” the report started.
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