Geneva, May 12
The Indian coronavirus variant (B1617), which has now been declared a “variant of global concern” has spread to 44 countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
The B1617 variant, first identified in India in October, has been detected in over 4500 sequences uploaded to the GISAID open-access database, till May 11, “from 44 countries in all six WHO regions,” the global health agency said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic on Tuesday.
The WHO has also “received reports of detections from five additional countries”, the update said.
The Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) is a German non-profit organisation, launched in 2016 as a database for sharing flu genomes.
The WHO’s SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group on Tuesday determined that viruses within the lineage B1617 areA a variant of concern.
The B1617 variant was, till now, deemed a ‘variant of interest’ by the WHO. It now has been added to the list of other Covid-19 “variants of concern” — UK (B117), South African (B1351) and Brazilian (P1) variants.
The B1617 variant was declared as a variant of concern based on early evidence of higher rates of transmission, including its observed rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries.
The UN health body also cited “preliminary evidence”, which suggests that the B1617 variant reduces the effectiveness of treatment of Covid patients with Bamlanivimab — a monoclonal antibody. It also pointed out lab studies that showed “slightly reduced susceptibility to neutralisation antibodies”.
Approximately 0.1 per cent of positive samples in India have been sequenced and uploaded to GISAID to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants, the WHO said.
The agency said that spread of B1617, along with other more transmittable variants, is one of several factors fuelling India’s dramatic surge in new cases and deaths.
The number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths globally decreased slightly this week, with over 5.5 million cases and over 90, 000 deaths, the update said. “India continues to account for 95 per cent of cases and 93 per cent of deaths in the South-East Asia Region, as well as 50 per cent of global cases and 30 per cent of global deaths,”, the update added.
India on Wednesday recorded 4,205 deaths due to Covid, the highest to date with 3,48,421 fresh cases, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.