WHO says India Covid variant found in 44 countries, of global concern

Lula Sharp
May 13, 2021

It has designated the B.1.617 variant found there of global concern but said its full impact is not yet clear.

The WHO also said it does not identify viruses or variants with names of countries they are first reported from.

Talking about the spread of this variant in India, leading to a covid crisis in the country, the World Health Organization said, "WHO found that resurgence and acceleration of COVID-19 transmission in India had several potential contributing factors, including increase in the proportion of cases of SARS-CoV-2 variants with potentially increased transmissibility".

The World Health Organization said on May 10 that the COVID-19 variant first associated with India a year ago was being classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has sought the inclusion of Oman and United Arab Emirates in the list of countries with travel restrictions after the Philippines recorded its first cases of the COVID-19 variant from India.

Vaccine frontrunner Britain reported a 2.1-percent jump in GDP in March as it gradually emerges from lockdown, while Spain said it was hoping to welcome 45 million tourists this year as the sector opens up.

Meanwhile, preliminary data in mixing vaccines has found an increased frequency of mild to moderate symptoms in those who received different jabs for the first and second dose.

'We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level, ' Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing.

The B1617 variant was, till now, deemed a "variant of interest" by the WHO.

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Health agencies escalate or de-escalate variants as scientific evidence evolves, a CDC spokesperson said in a statement, adding that USA classifications of variants may not align with those of the WHO "since the importance of variants may differ by location".

The variants are seen as more risky than the original version of the virus because they are either being more transmissible, deadly, or able to get past some vaccine protections.

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.

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.

With a record 4,205 deaths in the past 24 hours in India, the variant stoking the country's surge has now been detected in dozens of other countries across the globe.

The WHO explained Wednesday that B.1.617 was added to the list because it appears to be transmitted more easily than the original virus, pointing to the "rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries".

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO Foundation was launching a "Together for India" appeal to raise funds to purchase oxygen, medicines and protective equipment for health workers.

Approximately 0.1 per cent of positive samples in India have been sequenced and uploaded to GISAID to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants.

This REACT-1 report also determines which variant the samples showing positive for COVID-19 are: the majority of COVID-19 infections continue to be the B.1.1.7 (first identified in Kent) variant.

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