According to the World Health Organization, a version of Covid-19 responsible for the acceleration of India’s explosive epidemic has been discovered in hundreds of countries around the world.
The B.1.617 version of Covid-19, discovered in India in October, was contained in more than 4,500 samples submitted to an open-access database “from 44 countries in all six WHO regions” according to the UN health department.
“And WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries,” the organisation said in its weekly pandemic epidemiological summary.
Outside of India, it said that Britain had reported the largest number of Covid cases caused by the variant.
Earlier this week, the WHO declared B.1.617 — which counts three so-called sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics — as a “variant of concern”.
It was therefore added to the list containing three other variants of Covid-19 — those first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.
The variants are seen as more dangerous than the original version of the virus because they are either being more transmissible, deadly or able to get past some vaccine protections.
– ‘Rapid increase’ –
The WHO explained Wednesday that B.1.617 was added to the list because it appears to be transmitting more easily than the original virus, pointing to the “rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries”.
WHO also pointed to “preliminary evidence” that the variant was more resistant to treatment with the monoclonal antibody Bamlanivimab, and also highlighted early lab studies indicating “limited reduction in neutralisation by antibodies”.
It stressed, though, that “real-world impacts” on the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant for instance “may be limited”.
The dissemination of B.1.617, along with other more transmissible varieties, seemed to be one of many causes fueling India’s rapid increase in new cases and deaths, according to WHO.
With nearly 23 million Covid-19 cases, India, a nation of 1.3 billion inhabitants, is the world’s second-most afflicted after the United States, and is reportedly registering more than 300,000 new cases and close to 4,000 deaths every day.
The recent wave of cases has devastated major cities, including the capital of New Delhi and the financial hub of Mumbai, straining hospitals and causing serious shortages of oxygen and beds.
“WHO found that resurgence and acceleration of Covid-19 transmission in India had several potential contributing factors, including increase in the proportion of cases of SARS-CoV-2 variants with potentially increased transmissibility,” it said.
It also pointed to “several religious and political mass gathering events which increased social mixing; and, under-use of and reduced adherence to public health and social measures”.
“The exact contributions of each of these factors on increased transmission in India are not well understood.”
Just 0.1 percent of positive Covid samples in India have been genetically sequenced and submitted to the GISAID database to identify the variant in question, according to WHO.
According to the study, by the end of April, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 accounted for 21% and 7% of all sequenced samples from India, respectively.
In addition, other more infectious strains, such as B.1.1.7, which was first found in Britain, are circulating throughout the world.