Shahid Jameel's resignation comes weeks after a media report said that Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium had warned PM Narendra Modi's government in early March of a more contagious variant of Covid-19 but hardly any action was taken.

Family members of Vijay Raju, who died due to the Covid-19, mourn before his cremation at a crematorium ground in Giddenahalli village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, on May 13, 2021.
Family members of Vijay Raju, who died due to the Covid-19, mourn before his cremation at a crematorium ground in Giddenahalli village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, India, on May 13, 2021. (Reuters)

A top Indian virologist has resigned from a forum of scientific advisers set up by the government to detect variants of the coronavirus, weeks after questioning the authorities' handling of the pandemic.

Shahid Jameel, chair of the scientific advisory group of the forum known as INSACOG, declined to give a reason for his resignation.

"I am not obliged to give a reason," he said in a text message to Reuters news agency, adding that he quit on Friday.

Renu Swarup, the secretary of the Department of Biotechnology that oversees INSACOG, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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More contagious variant

Reuters reported earlier this month that INSACOG, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium, had warned government officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country. 

The variant, B.1.617, is one of the reasons India is currently battling the world's worst surge in Covid-19 cases.

Asked why the government did not respond more forcefully to the findings, for example by restricting large gatherings, Jameel had told Reuters that he was concerned that authorities were not paying enough attention to the evidence as they set policy. 

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Variant of concern

The coronavirus strain first linked to the Covid epidemic in India has now spread to at least 44 countries and been classified as a "variant of concern", but health authorities still know relatively little about it.

Spotted for the first time in October 2020 in India, it has joined the British, South African and Brazilian variants in the World Health Organization's highest threat category.

Harrowing images from overwhelmed crematoriums, graveyards, and even makeshift funeral pyres have highlighted the scale of the crisis.

Bodies of suspected Covid-19 victims have also been seen floating down the holy Ganges river.

Many have blamed the spread of virus to several election rallies and on migrant workers returning from cities and on pilgrims who attended the enormous – and largely mask-free – recent Hindu festival Kumbh Mela.

Source: Reuters