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RKI and ZIG response for support to India in the areas of Genomic Sequencing and Rapid Testing Strategies

Due to the current COVID-19 situation in India, the Centre for International Health Protection (ZIG) was approached by the Indian Embassy in Berlin and by the German Embassy in New Delhi with a request for support in genome sequencing and rapid testing strategies.

With respect to genome sequencing, ZIG facilitated, on 7 May 2021, an initial, virtual interaction between RKI colleagues from MF1 and P5 and colleagues from the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology (ICRM). This initial exchange focused on genome sequencing, reference-based genome assembly, and variant analysis. The RKI colleagues shared an overview of the existing core capacities at the RKI and the bioinformatic tools developed to generate sequence data and reports. Our counterparts from the ICRM gave an overview of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium and activities of the ICRM-NIV plus details of the work currently done in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further steps were taken and a longer bilateral exchange was established. As a result, a 2-day online capacity building workshop (19 and 21 May 2021) was prepared with the participation of over 40 colleagues of the Indian Council of Medical Research-NIV and NCDC-India. During these 2 days, colleagues from several RKI units (FG17, P5, MF1, MF2, MF4, ZV4) presented in detail the tools and workflows used at the RKI. On day 1, several talks described the workflows for sample processing, genome sequencing, genome reconstruction (Illumina-ONT), genomic profiling, DESH, and CovSonar. During day 2, the sessions concentrated on outbreak detection, identification of new lineages, incidence estimation, and the technical requirements necessary to run and implement these pipelines (infrastructure, skills, and staff).

Currently, steps are in development to further this collaboration and provide hands-on support of the tools presented during the workshops as well as advising, if necessary, on analysis of data and organization of resources. In addition, in the area of rapid testing, the colleagues of ZBS 1 are in ongoing communication with the German Embassy in New Delhi and have shared their willingness to contribute their expertise. This exchange is focused on the selection of rapid and cost-effective tests.

Date: 22.07.2021