WHO says Indian Covid-19 variant found in 44 countries around world

Geneva: Amid positive signs of declining coronavirus cases in the country, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said a variant of Covid-19 suspected to have caused the explosive outbreak of the deadly virus has been found in dozens of countries all over the world.

The UN health agency said the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19, first found in India in October, had been detected in sequences uploaded to the GISAID open-access database from 44 countries in all six WHO regions, adding it had received reports of detections from five additional countries.

The UN health agency further said that WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic. Besides India, it warned that Britain had reported the largest number of Covid cases caused by the variant.

It may be noted that earlier this week, the WHO had 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.

The WHO explained that B.1.617 was added to the list because it appears to be transmitted 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. WHO said the spread of B.1.617, alongside other more transmittable variants, appeared to be one of several factors fuelling India’s dramatic surge in new cases and deaths.

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. WHO stressed that so far, only 0.1 percent of positive Covid tests in India had been genetically sequenced and uploaded to the GISAID database to identify the variant in question.


Balasubramani Muniyandi