The Centre on Wednesday (May 12) has clarified that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not classified the B.1.617 coronavirus variant as ‘Indian’ as widely reported and stressed that the word ‘Indian’ has not been used in its report.
In an official statement, the government said that several media reports had covered the news of WHO classifying B.1.617 as a variant of global concern. And, some of these reports termed the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus as an ‘Indian Variant’. These reports are “without any basis and unfounded”, the statement said.
The WHO has said in fact that the variant had been detected in more than 4,500 samples from 44 countries in six WHO regions, added the Centre.
This variant is the fourth such “variant of concern” after the ones detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa. It was added to the list as it “appears to be transmitting more easily than the original virus”, the Centre said in its statement. However, a variant’s name is often tagged with the country where it was first detected. But, the WHO has not mentioned this double mutant strain as an Indian variant, stressed the Centre.
A mutation is moved up from being a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern” (VOC), when it fulfills one of several criteria such as easy transmission, more severe illness, reduced neutralisation by antibodies or reduced effectiveness of treatment and vaccines.
B.1.617, also known as double variant, is being studied to establish whether it is responsible for a deadly surge in India, which is currently swamping hospitals and crematoriums. This virus was first detected on October 5, 2020 in India but at that time the pandemic was not as severe or widespread. India has recorded 3,48,421 new coronavirus infections on May 12, with 4, 205 deaths in 24 hours.
Media reports said that from April 1, this strain has accounted for 80 per cent of all analysed genome sequences of mutant variants. The Centre did not establish a link between this variant and the surge of the cases in India during March-April but said it might be one of the reasons. The Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology has said that both Covishield and Covaxin, the two vaccines available in India, are effective against this strain.