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Scientists say Indian officials ignored warnings about new variant sweeping nation: report

Scientists say Indian officials ignored warnings about new variant sweeping nation: report
© PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images

Scientists involved in a government-run panel of experts studying COVID-19 in India said they were ignored when they warned the government to impose COVID-19 restrictions in response to new variants of the virus thought to increase transmission rate.

Experts with the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium (INSACOG) told Reuters that they warned government officials two months ago that two new variants of the virus spreading in the country's worst-hit areas could lead to a surge in infections. They said the government chose to not increase COVID-19 restrictions until it was too late.

"Policy has to be based on evidence and not the other way around," Shahid Jameel, INSACOG's chair, 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.”

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INSACOG's findings were reported to the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), where top officials said they told government officials of the need to increase public health restrictions but saw their pleas fall on deaf ears.

"It was highlighted very, very clearly that unless drastic measures are taken now, it will be too late to prevent the mortality which we are going to see," NCDC director Sujeet Kumar Singh said at a recent private meeting of health officials, according to Reuters.

Indian health officials only moved to institute lockdown measures around New Delhi, the country's capital, in late April in response to the country's surging new case and death rates. The country became the first in the world last month to see more than 400,000 new cases in one day.

Authorities reported that the number of new cases over a 24-hour period dropped slightly on Sunday, while the country experienced its fourth straight day of more than 3,000 deaths from the virus.