Indian Covid-19 variant found in 44 countries, all regions: WHO

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 12 2021 09:03 AM

Indian Covid-19 variant found in 44 countries, all regions: WHO 1
Relatives wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) attend the funeral of a man, who died from the coronavirus disease at a crematorium in New Delhi, India April 21, 2021. Adnan Abidi, Reuters

GENEVA, Switzerland - The World Health Organization said Wednesday that a variant of Covid-19 behind the acceleration of India's explosive outbreak has been found in dozens of countries all over the world.

The UN health agency said the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19, first found in India in October, had been detected in sequences uploaded to the GISAID open-access database "from 44 countries in all six WHO regions," adding it had received "reports of detections from five additional countries".

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WHO said the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19 first found in India last October seemed to be transmitting more easily.

"There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility of the B.1.617," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's lead on COVID-19, told reporters.

"As such, we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level," she said. 

She also pointed to early studies "suggesting that there is some reduced neutralization", meaning that antibodies appeared to have less impact on the variant in small-sample lab studies.

The WHO insisted though that it was far too early to interpret this to mean that the variant might have more resistance to vaccine protections.

"Based on current data, the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective at preventing disease and death in people infected with this variant," it said in a statement.

India, suffering from one of the worst outbreaks in the world, reported nearly 370,000 fresh infections and more than 3,700 new deaths on Monday.

The devastating wave has overwhelmed India's healthcare system, and experts have said the official figures for cases and fatalities are much lower than the actual numbers.

It has for some time been feared that B.1.617 -- which counts several sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics -- might be contributing to the alarming spread.

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