Indian COVID strain `variant of concern` but not vaccine resistant

Swaminathan added in a press statement Saturday that the Indian COVID-19 strain, which was discovered for the first time in India in October, is definitely one of the main factors in accelerating the spread of the virus.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, India has confirmed 22,296,414 cases and 242,398 deaths.

"We are monitoring all of these variants extremely closely and have taken the decision to classify this as a "variant of concern" because the indications are that this VOC-21APR-02 is a more transmissible variant".

Kerkhove said the agency needs much more information around the variant and its three sublineages, such as neutralization and any increased severity, through targeted sequencing.

The WHO recently listed B.1.617 - which counts several sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics - as a "variant of interest". Gauteng has reported two cases of the variant from the United Kingdom, eight cases were recorded in the Western Cape, and one has been identified in KwaZulu-Natal.

Additional information is expected to be released Tuesday, she said.

Public Health England cited evidence suggesting the variant is "at least as transmissible" as the United Kingdom B.1.1.7 variant, which is believed to spread 50% more easily than the ancestral strain.

"At that point it's very hard to suppress, because it's then involving tens of thousands of people and it's multiplying at a rate at which it's very difficult to stop".

She pointed out that India, the world's largest vaccine-making nation, had only fully vaccinated around two percent of the 1.3 billion-plus population.

With that prospect, Swaminathan stressed that "for the foreseeable future, we need to depend on our tried and tested public health and social measures" to bring down transmission. Swaminathan further warned that chances of such unsafe variants emerging is more in the coming days.

Despite the concerns about the effects of the mutations, researchers have said the vaccines still offer some protection against the virus and the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.

"That's going to be a problem for the whole world".

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