Days After Criticising Govt, Top Virologist Shahid Jameel Quits COVID Panel

Days after questioning the government authorities on handling the pandemic, the veteran virologist Shahid Jameel resigned as the chairman of the scientific advisory group set up by the central government for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of COVID-19 strains in India.

Dr. Jameel, who is the Director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, was the chairman of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a forum set up by the union government in December last year.

“It’s correct and I shall have nothing more to say. I am not obliged to give a reason,” Dr. Jameel said in a text message to news agency Reuters. He said that he resigned on Friday.

In a recent article he wrote in The New York Times pointing out issues with India’s COVID-19 management, Dr Jameel had cautioned that the scientists in India are facing a “stubborn response to evidence-based policymaking.” He had also questioned the lower testing, slow pace of vaccination, vaccine shortage and the need for a bigger healthcare workforce. “All of these measures have wide support among my fellow scientists in India. But they are facing stubborn resistance to evidence-based policymaking,” he wrote.

“Decision-making based on data is yet another casualty, as the pandemic in India has spun out of control. The human cost we are enduring will leave a permanent scar,” Dr Jameel wrote.

Dr Shahid Jameel

He had also said that over 800 Indian scientists, on April itself, had “appealed to the prime minister, demanding access to the data that could help them further study, predict and curb this virus.”

With six variants of concern (VOC) of coronavirus that is dominating global topography currently, India is grappling with three particular variants, i.e. the UK, Brazil, and South Africa, since the second COVID-19 wave struck the country.
The lineages B.1.1.7 (called UK variant), B.1.351 (South Africa variant), and P.1 (Brazil variant) have been detected in India. Last year Maharashtra was hit badly with most reported cases of which almost close to 20 per cent cases were showing the trace of ‘double mutant’ – an Indian variant called B.1.617 lineage.

“At last report, of about 15,000 virus sequences, 11 percent comprised of these VOCs. Among these B.1.1.7 dominates in India with B.1.351 found mainly in West Bengal. Only 2 or 3 P.1 VOCs are detected so far,” Jameel had said.

COVID-19 virus has been mutating and various mutations have been found in many countries as well as in India, these include UK (17 mutations), Brazil (17 mutations), and South Africa (12 mutations) variants. These variants have higher transmissibility. The UK Variant has been found extensively in UK, all across Europe and has spread to Asia and America.