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Indian Covid-19 variant found in 44 countries

Indian Covid-19 variant found in 44 countries”

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".

The WHO announced on Monday that it had designated the India variant as a variant of global concern, following those first identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

India has reported 22.6 million COVID cases (second most in the world) and more than 246,000 deaths (third most in the world), with case counts and death counts growing by the day.

"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".

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dubbed B.1.617 a "variant of interest" - a less urgent designation - last week.

The WHO insisted though that it was far too early to interpret this to mean that the variant might have more resistance to vaccine protections.

"There has been increase in detection of this variant along with an increase and surge in Covid-19 cases in India", Ofrin said. The Indian virus strains now remain under this classification.

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Covid variants are seen as more risky than the original version of the virus because they are either more transmissible, deadly or able to get past some vaccine protections.

By the end of April, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 accounted for 21 and seven percent respectively of all sequenced samples from India, it said.

But experts caution that it's not yet clear just how much of a factor B.1.617 has played in the catastrophic rise in cases in India.

The UK has begun to drastically roll back restrictions on the back of a successful vaccine rollout and while the World Health Organization clarified its remarks to say existing vaccines "should prevent disease and death in people infected with this variant", Dr Van Kerkhove reminded those who are inoculated can still transmit the virus.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan on Monday (local time), as quoted by ANI, said that studies were underway in India to examine the variant's transmissibility, the severity of the disease it causes and the response of antibodies in people who have been vaccinated.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO Foundation was launching a "Together for India" appeal to raise funds to purchase oxygen, medicines and protective equipment for health workers.



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