The highly contagious triple-mutant COVID variant spreading in India has now become a global health threat. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday reclassified it as a “variant of concern”. The B.1.617 was previously labelled a “variant of interest”.
Preliminary studies have shown that the variant spreads more easily than the original virus and there is some evidence it may able to evade some of the protections provided by vaccines, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19.
“And as such we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level. 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,” Van Kerkhove said.
“What it means for anybody at home is any of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating can infect you and spread and everything in that sense is of concern. So, all of us at home, no matter where we live, no matter what virus is circulating, we need to make sure that we take all of the measures at hand to prevent ourselves from getting sick.”
A variant can be labelled as “of concern” if it has been shown to be more contagious, more deadly or more resistant to current vaccines and treatments.
According to the WHO a variant of interest is a variant of concern “if, through a comparative assessment, it has been demonstrated to be associated with:
- increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology;
- increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or
- decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.
- assessed to be a VOC by the WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group.
There are three lineages of the Indian COVID variant: B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3. Of these, the B.1.617.2 has been found to be of most concern. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified all three variants as VOCs.
Classifying a variant as a VOC is the second stage of categorising a threatening strain. The third stage is ‘variant of high consequence’. A variant is put in this category when it is proven that the virus strain is immune to both treatment protocol and vaccines or preventive protocol.