A new variant of the COVID-19 virus, described as a “double mutant,” has been discovered in a region of India considered to be significantly impacted by the pandemic.
As the Guardian reported, the new strain “has been found in more than 200 samples in the hardest-hit western state of Maharashtra, which is home to India’s financial capital of Mumbai.”
The report also noted it’s not clear that the double mutant version of the virus can be linked to the surge of new COVID cases in multiple states in India, although the announcement did coincide with the nation’s highest single-day count for infections and deaths in 2021.
“Epidemiologists said the term ‘double mutant’ refers to a new variant that has the characteristics of two already identified variants,” the Guardian noted.
“Double mutant is not a scientific term. It is just another mutant which seems to be unique to India,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy in New Delhi.
The BBC clarified that “an analysis of the samples collected from India’s western Maharashtra state showed ‘an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations’ compared with December .”
“Such [double] mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity,” the health ministry added in a statement carried in that report.
It’s unknown, however, how the mutations may be affecting case numbers in India. On March 24, India reported more than 47,000 new infections in the previous 24-hour period, the highest since early November 2020. Overall, the country has had 11.7 million cases. Only the United States and Brazil have reported higher case numbers.
The two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in India—the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine that’s been very high profile in the last few weeks, and one developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech—appear to be effective against variants of the virus first identified in Brazil and Great Britain, according to Indian health officials.
“I would say that it is the beginning of a second wave,” Randeep Guleria, director at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told CNN. “It is something that has already been seen in many European countries; we seem to be following them.”
Guleria added that a number of factors, including pandemic fatigue and people being less cautious due to a decline in infections over the past few months, could be contributing to the recent spike in cases.
“You see that in the community, when you go out, wearing a mask has become less and less,” Guleria said. “We see crowds developing, partying, a lot of marriage ceremonies are happening in India.”