A new “double mutant” variant of the coronavirus has been detected from samples collected in India, where two mutations come together in the same virus, may be infectious or less affected by vaccines.
As the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in India continue to mount, public health officials are carefully watching yet another looming threat: the appearance of mutations that could be making the virus circulating there more infectious or more capable of causing severe disease.
The variant, known as B.1.617, which has a so-called double mutation, is thought to be fueling India’s deadlier new wave of cases that have made it the world’s second worst-hit country, surpassing Brazil.
The WHO recently listed B.1.617 — which counts several sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics — as a “variant of interest”.
The UN health agency said the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19 first found in India had as of Tuesday, April 27, been detected in over 1,200 sequences uploaded to the GISAID open-access database “from at least 17 countries”.
“Most sequences were uploaded from India, the United Kingdom, USA, and Singapore,” the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic.
The WHO acknowledged that its preliminary modeling based on sequences submitted to GISAID indicates “that B.1.617 has a higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility”.
The last 24 hours brought 360,960 new cases for the world’s largest single-day total, taking India’s tally of infections to nearly 18 million. It was also the deadliest day so far, with 3,293 fatalities carrying the toll to 201,187.