The B.1617 variant of COVID-19, largely responsible for the current wave of cases in India, has spread to 49 nations and has been labeled as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.
The new classification for B.1617, according to the Washington Post, comes “amid evidence that it transmits faster than the original virus and may be more resistant to some COVID-19 treatments as well as antibodies,” though laboratory testing shows that the current vaccines available have some effectiveness against it.
“The variant is one of the reasons cited for the surge of cases in India that the WHO said made up half of all new infections in the world over the past week and 30% of all the deaths,” the article continued. “India reported 348,421 new cases [on May 12] and a record 4,205 deaths. In every other region in the world, the number of new cases is falling.”
Great Britain currently is reporting the greatest number of B.1617-related cases outside of India. While the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths globally slightly decreased this week, with more than 5.5 million cases and more than 90,000 deaths, WHO noted in a May 11 report that case and death incidences are still at a high level.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, remarked, “Globally, we are still in a perilous situation.” While India has about half the 772,000 new cases reported on average each day around the world, Asian nations including Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia are experiencing upticks in COVID-19 cases.
A report from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) cited Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, saying “much more work is needed to look at B1617 sequences from India and other countries that have detected it.”
Nature noted that, based on animal models, the variant may cause more severe disease and that it’s believed to be more transmissable than other variants. “Its prevalence has increased over other variants in much of India, suggesting that it has better ‘fitness’ over those variants,” observed Shahid Jameel, a virologist at Ashoka University in Sonipat.
The “variant of concern” classification, according to Nature, is applied when there is evidence that a variant spreads more rapidly, causes more severe disease, or evades previously acquired immunity better than other currently circulating versions of the virus.