SARS-COV-2: How the new Indian COVID-19 variant is deadlier
India officially becomes the country with the biggest single day rise in COVID-19 cases amounting to more than 300,000 cases in 24 hours. The new double mutant variant has been the primary cause of concern for global authorities.
Hospitals and crematoriums in India have been submerged due to rising cases of the new deadlier variant of coronavirus making the country, the second most affected one from COVID-19. Here is the information about the new double mutant variant of COVID-19 and how it is different from the previous variants of coronavirus.
Emergence of the new strain
According to health professionals, viruses are bound to mutate and the mutation can make them either stronger or weaker. In the case of the particular variant in discussion, the B.1.671, as it’s called, first appeared in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra on October 2020. Due to decreasing daily cases of Coronavirus in India at the time, the local Health Ministry thought of the variant as an insignificant development until the end of March 2021, when the new strain was acknowledged and confirmed by the Indian authorities.
The new variant acts as a carriage to two mutations – L452R and E484Q. Previously, both the mutations have been reported but not together. To state the details, the L452R holds the potential to increase the power of the spike protein of Coronavirus with human cells, making it much more transmissible while the E484Q reduces the effectiveness of antibodies generated by vaccine or previous infection of COVID-19.
Is Double Mutant Virus the primary reason for India’s record infections?
Yes. According to GISAID, the double mutant strain is responsible for the record number of daily COVID infections in India today. The GSAID provides open access to genomic data of influenza and COVID-19 and has come up with the conclusion after analysing the genome sequencing of B.1.671. Continuing with its findings, the new variant has been found in a whopping 60% of the total infected cases in Maharashtra which is the epicentre of Coronavirus cases in India.
The new strain can now be found in a dozen Indian states. The combination of two strains, one which makes it much more transmissible and the other which makes it escape from antibodies, is projected to increase the number of COVID-19 cases in India and eventually the world if it is allowed to travel through hosts.
Double Mutant Virus more fatal than other COVID-19 variants?
Scientists are still investigating the new variant and preliminary reports have suggested that virus transmission has seen a rise of 20% while it also reduces the effect of antibodies by 50%. COVID-19 variants reported from countries UK, Brazil and South Africa have proven worrying for authorities around the world. And according to studies, only strains from these countries have proven to be more contagious and deadly.
However, health authorities have warned that the B.1.671 variant has all the features of the above stated strains and it must be contained efficiently.
Are Vaccines Effective Against B.1.671?
Enough evidence is not available to answer this, but pharmaceutical companies developing the vaccines are testing it with B.1.671 variant, and also with other strains emerging around the world. Technically, immune escape is the ability of an infectious disease to avoid the antibodies in the human body. This means that it is not necessary to achieve full immunity from the virus even after the vaccine is administered or the effected person has successfully recovered from COVID-19 before.
If the new B.1.671 variant is capable of immune escape, this could have devastating repercussions on India and neighbouring countries, and the pandemic can have globally fatal impact even after introduction of the vaccine.
Is B.1.671 variant emergent in countries other than India?
Yes. More than 10 countries have reported the double mutant strain of COVID-19 namely US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and many others. Several countries including Pakistan have banned travel to and from India to prevent this strain in spreading further.
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