Coronavirus: WHO designates COVID-19 strain first detected in India ‘variant of concern’

The World Health Organization on Monday reclassified a highly contagious COVID-19 variant sweeping India as a “variant of concern,” upgrading its status to that of a global health threat.

The triple-mutant variant, first detected in India and known as B.1.617, has proved to be far more easily transmissible than the original coronavirus strain and potentially evasive of vaccine protections, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said during a news conference.

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“Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sub lineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done,” Kerkhove said, noting that vaccine shots are still considered “effective” against the variant at this point.

The Indian variant is now the fourth strain designated a global health threat by the WHO, following the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, the B.1.35 variant first detected in South Africa and the P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil, CNBC reported.

India reported more than 366,000 new daily coronavirus cases Monday, and by midday Tuesday the country’s nationwide total hovered just below 23 million cumulative cases. To date, COVID-19 infections have resulted in nearly 250,000 deaths across India, the third-highest global death toll behind only the United States and Brazil, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

The Indian variant, which has exhibited 13 mutations to date, has already spread to more than 30 countries, including the United States, the U.K., France and Japan, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“What we know now [is] that the vaccines work, the diagnostics work, the same treatment used for the regular virus work,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, said during the news conference. “There’s no need to change any of those, and in fact people should go ahead and get whatever vaccine is available to them.”

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