Indian COVID-19 variant found in 44 countries, Britain reports most cases

CRYOGENIC tankers carrying liquid oxygen are seen onboard an “oxygen express train” after it reached a station in New Delhi.—Reuters

CRYOGENIC tankers carrying liquid oxygen are seen onboard an “oxygen express train” after it reached a station in New Delhi.—Reuters

The WHO emphasised in its report that it wasn't yet clear how much the variant, known as B.1.617, had contributed to the devastating surge that has crushed India in recent weeks.

"In fact, the word "Indian" has not been used in its [WHO's] report on the matter", the ministry said.

The agency has also "received reports of detections from five additional countries", World Health Organization updated.

Earlier, WHO clarified that it does not identify viruses or variants with names of countries they are first reported from. The WHO speculated that another variant known as B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain and now dominant in the USA, might also be driving the swell in cases. "So, guessing there is some reduced neutralisation, as such, we are classifying this a variant of concern at the global level".

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As of May 4, the CDC classified the strain and its several sublineages as a "variant of interest".

The Philippines has also previously recorded cases of a variant first detected in Britain and another first discovered in South Africa, as well as a homegrown P.3 variant. The UN health body urged all to refer to the variants by their scientific names.

GISAID is a global science initiative and primary source that provides open access to genomic data of the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. "We will continue to see variants emerge, variants of concern around the world and we must do everything we can to really limit the spread", added the Technical lead COVID-19 at WHO.

That danger stems from a variant's higher transmissibility, lethality and resistance to vaccines, or either of them.

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And Van Kerkhove stressed that when it comes to the B.1.617 variant, for the time being "we don't have anything to suggest that our diagnostics or therapeutics and our vaccines don't work".

According to it, B.1.617 sub-lineages appear to have higher rates of transmission, including observed rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries.

It also cited preliminary research suggesting that the variant could compromise the effects of medications and neutralizing antibodies.

The resurgence in COVID-19 cases and deaths in India have raised questions on the potential role of B.1.617 and other variants such as B.1.1.7 in circulation.

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A mutation means a change in a nucleic acid base or amino acid molecule, and a virus containing this change is termed a mutant. It cautioned that India, like many countries, is only sequencing a tiny fraction of positive samples, and that with so little surveillance, it's hard to reach any firm conclusions about B.1.617. "This is important, what we do, even though there is increased transferability demonstrated by some preliminary study, we need much more information on this variant".

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