The Indian government has said for the first time that its “double mutant” coronavirus variant might be linked to the deadly second wave, while a top scientific adviser warned the country to prepare for an “inevitable” third wave of Covid-19.
The B.1.617 variant, which was first found in India in March, has 15 mutations compared to the original virus.
The spike in cases seen in the last months in some states shows a “correlation with the rise in (the presence of) B.1.617,” said Dr Sujeet Singh, director of the National Centre for Disease Control. He added the caveat that it has not been “fully established.”
On Wednesday, Dr Singh said: “Initially, the epicentre for B1.617 lineage was found to be Maharashtra. The current surge in cases seen over the last one and half month in some states shows a correlation with rise in the B1.617 lineage.”
But its epidemiological and clinical correlation has not been not fully established. “Without the correlation, we cannot establish direct linkage to any surge,” he added.
The government until now has refrained from linking the deadly surge with the Indian variant as it was restricted by the fact that only about 1 per cent of Covid-19 samples were sequenced.
Dr K V VijayRaghavan, principal scientific advisor to the prime minister, also warned of a third wave of infection in the country due to high levels of the circulating virus and immunity to the vaccine.
The scientist said he could not predict when the third wave will hit but the vaccines will need to be "updated" to fight the new strains.
He said they had not expected the second wave to hit with such “ferocity.”
The top scientific adviser also said previous infections and vaccines could lead to further mutation of the virus so that it can survive, before going on to warn the scientific community to be prepared.
The statements came from the Narendra Modi government as it is facing criticism for mismanagement of its Covid-19 response during the second wave. India has become an epicenter of the outbreak in the world, reporting the highest number of cases.
The country saw highest ever 412,000 fresh infections and 3,980 deaths in the last 24 hours, with more than 20 million Covid cases. But what is raising concerns is that medical experts say the actual figures could be five to 10 times the official tallies.
Dr VijayRaghavan described the new variants as “fitter” viruses, capable of escaping increased host immunity.
“Vaccines are effective against the current variants, new variants will arise all over the world. But variants which increase transmission will likely plateau; immune-evasive variants, and those which lower or increase disease severity, will arise,” he added.
Regarding the government’s decision on imposing lockdown, Dr V K Paul, who heads India’s Covid-19 task force, said in the same press conference that the option is always being discussed and “those decisions as required will be taken.”
Out of the total 13,000 samples sequenced for variants, 3,532 were found to be variants of concern, and of these 1,527 had the B.1.617 variant.
According to the latest data, the Indian variant has been found in Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal, Delhi, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh.
Virologist Shahid Jameel earlier told The Independent the two major mutations in the virus known as E484Q and L425R strain tends to “spread faster and to evade antibody responses in people who had infections or vaccination.”
Dr Gagandeep Kang slammed the government for patchy on-again-off-again surveillance. She said the country had not ramped up to sequencing to a level as it should have and it is a lapse that is leaving officials in the dark about what level of interventions will have to be put in place.
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