A newly identified variant of the novel coronavirus is likely more transmissible but less fatal than the Delta, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Last week health authorities in the UK classified the new mutation of the Delta variant as a Variant Under Investigation. The UK Health Security Agency made this classification after the Delta sub-lineage AY.4.2 showed an increased growth rate in the country. “There is some early evidence that it may have an increased growth rate in the UK compared to Delta,” the agency said. However, it added that “more evidence is needed to know whether this is due to changes in the virus’ behaviour or to epidemiological conditions”.
Seventeen samples of AY.4.2 have been identified in India so far.
“The new Delta variant seems to be highly transmissible but not fatal, as such. It can be more transmissible considering that the virus does that for its own survival as it needs more hosts. However, it is difficult to say that it will be more virulent,” ICMR scientist Dr. Samiran Panda told an Indian news channel.
“Variants occur as viruses proliferate as offspring do not look exactly like their parents. Efficient transmission does not necessarily go hand in hand with more virulence because increased virulence will make an infected host less mobile and may even lead to hospitalisation and unfortunate event of death, which is not a smart move as viruses require cells of living hosts to survive as they do not have their own kitchen.”
“We should not create panic but stepping up vigilance and following COVID-appropriate behaviour is necessary. There is no place for complacency,” Dr. Panda said.
Panda said combination of vaccine and use of masks should be followed without any exception. “New variant or the old one spreads by the same means – let’s therefore use mask and outsmart the virus SARS-CoV-2,” he said.
“While masks would prevent the acquisition of infection, the vaccines would try to reduce hospitalisation and death. We should follow these two practices, irrespective of any mutation or variant.”
The World Health Organization describes mutations that make the variant more infectious or deadly as ‘Variant of Concern’.