Indian Covid variant

Indian Covid variant found in 44 countries, continues to spread, says WHO

Health workers in Hyderabad, India, check body temperatures door-to-door, in an effort to detect Covid-19 cases. The World Health Organisation warns that a variant first detected in India has been found in worldwide, and may be spreading.
Health workers in Hyderabad, India, check body temperatures door-to-door, in an effort to detect Covid-19 cases. The World Health Organisation warns that a variant first detected in India has been found in worldwide, and may be spreading. © Mahesh Kumar A/Associated Press

The World Health Organization has warned that the so-called “Indian variant” of Covid has been detected in 44 countries around the world and is still spreading. The variant is believed to be behind India’s explosive outbreak, which is killing close to 4,000 people a day.

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The United Nations health agency said in its weekly Covid situation report Wednesday that the B.1.617 Covid-19 variant, first found in India in October, had been detected in more than 4,500 samples uploaded to an open-access database "from 44 countries in all six WHO regions".

It added that it has received reports of cases in five additional countries, and preliminary evidence that the variant spreads more easily than others.

"We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level," Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency’s technical lead on Covid-19, told a briefing. "There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility."

Many countries have already blocked entries from India, or imposed strict quarantines. France requires ten days of quarantine for anyone arriving from India.

The Indian variant is the fourth classified “of concern” by the WHO, after the variants detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.

These variants are seen as more dangerous than the original version of the virus, being either more transmissible, deadlier or not as susceptible to vaccines.

The Indian variant has three “sub-lineages”, each with slightly different mutations, and studies are underway to find out exactly how it acts, given that very few samples in India have been sequenced, providing little data.

"What we know now is that the vaccines work, the diagnostics work, the same treatments that are used for the regular virus works, so there is really no need to change any of those," said Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist.

However, countries must continue to be vigilent to limit the spread of variants, because "we will continue to see variants emerge," said Van Kerkhove.

(with wires)

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