New variant a global concern, found in 44 countries, says WHO

WHO classifies India variant as being of global concern

Geneva:COVID-19 variant B.1.617, which was first identified in India a year ago and has been classified as a variant of global concern, has three sub-lineages, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official informed on Wednesday.

The B.1.617 variant is the fourth variant to be designated as being of global concern and requiring heightened tracking and analysis.

The organization this week declared the strain a "variant of concern", placing it alongside three others that were first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.

"There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility of the B.1.617", Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's lead on Covid-19, told reporters. "There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility". The variant is believed to be behind India's explosive outbreak, which is killing close to 4,000 people a day. Both figures are assumed to be undercounts. "On May 4, 2021, the B.1.617, B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, and B.1.617.3 lineages were classified as variants of interests by CDC, in collaboration with the SIG, but variant status might escalate or deescalate based on scientific evidence".

Globally, one of the three sublineages of the variant that merged in India now accounts for an estimated 5% of all cases, according to Outbreak.info data.

It is unclear whether the additional cases are linked and the Public Health Agency would not confirm where they were found or how many were linked to travel. The Indian virus strains now remain under this classification.

India, suffering from one of the worst outbreaks in the world, reported almost 370,000 fresh infections and more than 3,700 new deaths on Monday.

The resurgence in COVID-19 cases and deaths in India have raised questions on the potential role of B.1.617 and other variants such as B.1.1.7 in circulation.

However, the CDC's variant tracking site does include data on B.1.617, suggesting it accounts for just a fraction of a percent of all USA cases.

"Since the importance of variants may differ by location, CDC, in collaboration with the SIG [SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group], is closely monitoring the emergence of the B.1.617 variant in the United States and this variant has been prioritized for characterization by the USA government to better understand the potential impact on available medical countermeasures, including vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics", said Jade Fulce, CDC spokesperson, in an emailed statement.

Sublineage B.1.617.2 is the most common of B.1.617's deviations.

"Since the identification of these variants through late April 2021, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 accounted for 21% and 7% of sequenced samples from India", the update said, adding that preliminary analyses conducted by World Health Organization using sequences submitted to GISAID suggests that B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 have a substantially higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility compared.

While there has been a small increase in the overall number of positive Covid-19 cases in NI, it is understood health officials at this stage are not overly concerned.

'What we know now is that the vaccines work, the diagnostics work, the same treatments that are used for the regular virus works, so there is really no need to change any of those, ' Swaminathan said.