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Virus variant on the move beyond India

China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-12 09:26
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A medical worker tends to a patient suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) inside the emergency room of Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, India, May 7, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

GENEVA-The World Health Organization said on Wednesday a variant of COVID-19 behind the acceleration of India's explosive outbreak 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 more than 4,500 samples uploaded to an open-access database "from 44 countries in all six WHO regions".

"And WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries," it said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic.

Outside of India, it said that the United Kingdom had reported the largest number of 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-a "variant of concern".

It was 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 more transmissible, deadly, or able to get past some vaccine protections.

'Rapid increase'

The WHO said on Wednesday 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".

The WHO also pointed to "preliminary evidence" the variant was more resistant to treatment with the monoclonal antibody Bamlanivimab, and also highlighted early lab studies indicating "limited reduction in neutralization by antibodies".

It stressed, though, that "real-world impacts" on the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant "may be limited".

The WHO said the spread of B.1.617, alongside other more transmittable variants, appeared to be one of several factors fueling India's dramatic surge in new cases and deaths.

India, a country of 1.3 billion people, has the second-highest count of coronavirus infections after the United States. On Wednesday, the country registered 4,205 deaths in the latest 24-hour period, the highest so far, and 348,421 new cases, taking the total to more than 23.3 million, the federal health ministry said.

The new surge in cases has ravaged major cities, including the capital New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai, pushing hospitals to the breaking point and leading to severe shortages in oxygen supplies 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, underuse 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."

The 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.

By the end of April, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 accounted for 21 and 7 percent, respectively, of all sequenced samples from India, it said. In addition, other more contagious variants are also spreading in the country, including B.1.1.7, which was first detected in Britain.

Agencies - Xinhua

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