Planned to setup in Jammu & Srinagar during 2nd COVID wave, two Genome Sequencing labs nowhere in sight

Govind Sharma
JAMMU, Dec 6: Two Genome Sequencing laboratories which were planned to be set up in Jammu as well as in Srinagar during 2nd wave of COVID-19, are nowhere in sight and the health authorities in both the regions are still bound to send the samples of Coronavirus positive patients for Genome Sequencing in National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Delhi.
As the Omnicron variant of Coronavirus has started spreading its tentacles in India, it has become necessary for the Health authorities to do genome sequencing of every Coronavirus positive patient so that this new variant may be stopped from spreading by detecting it timely as according to the experts across the globe, Omnicron variant spreads two times faster than the Delta variant.
In view of Omnicron threat, the Government of India, in its latest guidelines, has asked the States and Union Territories to send samples of every COVID positive patient for genomic testing at the INSACOG laboratory network. Following the guidelines of the Government of India, Health authorities in both Jammu and Kashmir Divisions are sending the samples of the COVID positive patients to NCDC Delhi, which is unable to provide the genome testing reports timely, thereby defeating the objective of the genome sequencing.
Official sources told Excelsior that during peak of 2nd COVID wave, Health authorities of the UT had decided to setup one Genome Sequencing lab each in Jammu division as well as in Kashmir region as the NCDC Delhi was taking weeks of time to send reports of genome sequencing. They said at that time it was decided that in Jammu region, the Genome Sequencing lab will be established in Government Medical College Jammu while in Kashmir, it was planned to set up either in SKIMS Soura or GMC Srinagar.
“Accordingly, the technical specifications for the machine used in Genome Sequencing were shared with Jammu and Kashmir Medical Supplies Corporation Limited (JKMSCL) for procurement of two such machines worth Rs 2 crore (approximately) each,” sources said, but lamented that even after a lapse of over six months time, the requisite machines could not be procured and the labs for Genome Sequencing were not established.
Sources informed that there are only a few genome sequencing labs in the country and all the States are dependent on these labs for Genome testing of samples of COVID positive patients. “Had the genome sequencing labs established timely in the UT as was planned, it would have been very helpful for the Health authorities of the UT to timely detect and check spread of Omnicron variant,” they said.
When contacted, Dr Yashpal Sharma, Managing Director, JKMSCL said that the tenders for the procurement of the genome testing machines were floated thrice by them but every time only a single bid was received. He said now, the concerned authorities in Jammu as well as in Kashmir are evaluating the technical specifications of received bid and if their specifications match, the financial bid will be opened and the machines will be procured. The whole process will take at least 40-60 days, he added.