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Variant that accelerates the explosion of Covid in India: WHO senior scientist | India News


GENEVA: A variant of Covid-19 spreading in India is more contagious and may be circumventing vaccine protections, contributing to the country’s explosive outbreak, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said on Saturday.
In an interview with AFP, Soumya Swaminathan warned that “the epidemiological characteristics that we see in India today indicate that it is an extremely fast-spreading variant.”
India registered more than 4,000 deaths from Covid-19 in just 24 hours and more than 400,000 new infections for the first time on Saturday.
New Delhi has struggled to contain the outbreak, which has overwhelmed its healthcare system, and many experts suspect that the official death and case figures are a gross understatement.
Swaminathan, an Indian pediatrician and clinical scientist, said Covid-19 variant B.1.617, which was first detected in India last October, was clearly a contributing factor to the unfolding catastrophe in his homeland. .
“There have been a lot of accelerators that have gotten into this,” the 62-year-old said, emphasizing that “one of them is a more rapidly spreading virus.”
WHO recently listed B.1.617, which counts several sublineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics, as a “variant of interest”.
But so far it has not added it to its short list of “variant of concern,” a label that indicates that it is more dangerous than the original version of the virus by being more transmissible, deadly or capable of exceeding the protections of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, various national health authorities, including those in the United States and Britain, have said they view B.1.617 as a variant of concern, and Swaminathan said he hoped WHO would do the same soon.
“B 1.617 is likely to be a worrying variant because it has some mutations that increase transmission and that could also make it resistant to antibodies that are generated by vaccination or natural infection,” he said.
But he insisted that the variant alone could not be blamed for the dramatic increase in cases and deaths in India, and lamented that the country seemed to have let its guard down, with “a great social mix and great gatherings.”
Massive election rallies organized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other politicians, for example, have been blamed in part for the staggering rise in infections.
But even as many in India felt the crisis was over, ceasing to wear masks and other protective measures, the virus was quietly spreading.
“In a large country like India, the transmission could be low, which is what happened for many months,” Swaminathan said.
“It was endemic (and) probably gradually increasing,” he said, denouncing that “those early signs were overlooked until it got to the point where it was taking off vertically.”
“At that time it is very difficult to suppress, because then it is involving tens of thousands of people and it is multiplying at a rate that is very difficult to stop.”
While India is now trying to increase vaccination to curb the outbreak, Swaminathan warned that the blows alone would not be enough to control the situation.
He noted that India, the world’s largest vaccine-producing nation, had only fully vaccinated about two percent of the population of more than 1.3 billion.
“It will take many months, if not years, to get to the point of 70 to 80 percent coverage,” he said.
With that perspective, Swaminathan emphasized that “for the foreseeable future, we need to rely on our tried and tested public health and social measures” to reduce transmission.
The rise in India is terrifying not only because of the appalling number of people who are sick and dying there, but also because the growing number of infections dramatically increases the chances of new and more dangerous variants emerging.
“The more the virus is replicating, spreading and transmitting, the more likely it is that … mutations will develop and adapt,” Swaminathan said.
“Variants that accumulate many mutations can ultimately become resistant to the current vaccines that we have,” he warned.
“That is going to be a problem for everyone.”

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