Covid Variant From India Triggers WHO Concern Over Fast Spread
(Bloomberg) -- A fast-spreading strain of Covid-19 first identified in India, the scene of one of the world’s most fearsome outbreaks, will be classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization.
The global health group will publish a detailed report Tuesday on the variant, called B.1.617, said Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead officer on Covid-19.
“There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility,” she said at a media briefing on Monday. A study of a limited number of patients that has not undergone peer review also suggested that the mutant can evade some key antibodies, she said. “As such, we’re classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level.”
India’s health system has been stretched to the breaking point by a virus wave that’s proving highly lethal and difficult to control. The country has reported more than 300,000 new virus infections for the past 19 days straight. Fearing an influx of infections and mindful of the new variant, countries including Singapore, the U.K. and Tanzania have curbed travel to and from India.
The WHO’s move follows the U.K., where Public Health England reclassified B.1.617 as a variant of concern on Friday, adding there is insufficient evidence so far to indicate it causes more severe disease or means vaccines are less effective against it.
Although increased ability to spread has been demonstrated in preliminary studies, more information and targeted sequencing is needed in India and elsewhere in order to know how much of the virus is circulating, according to van Kerkhove.
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