The UN health agency said on Wednesday that the B.1.617 variant, responsible for the massive surge of cases in India, has been detected in more than 4,500 samples uploaded to an open-access database “from 44 countries in all six WHO regions.”
“WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries,” the organisation said on Wednesday in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic.
This new variant was first found in October in India and is believed to be transmitting more quickly than the original virus and considered more dangerous. It was also reclassified as a “variant of concern” by WHO and added to the list containing three other variants of Covid-19 -- those first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.
“A recent risk assessment of the situation in India conducted by WHO found that resurgence and acceleration of Covid-19 transmission in India had several potential contributing factors, including an increase in the proportion of cases of SARS-CoV-2 variants with potentially increased transmissibility,” it said.
It also pointed that India’s spread could have been a result of “several religious and political mass gathering events which increased social mixing; and, underuse of and reduced adherence to public health and social measures.”
According to WHO, apart from India, the country that had reported the largest number of Covid cases with this variant is Britain.
WHO also pointed to “preliminary evidence” that the variant was more resistant to treatment with the monoclonal antibody Bamlanivimab, and also highlighted early lab studies indicating “limited reduction in neutralisation by antibodies.”
It stressed that “real-world impacts” on the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant for instance “may be limited.”
WHO said the spread of B.1.617, alongside other more transmittable variants, appeared to be one of several factors fuelling India’s dramatic surge in new cases and deaths.
India has become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the last few weeks, reporting over 23 million infections so far. It is still behind the US and is the second-most affected country in the total number of cases but experts say India’s outbreak may be much more severe than the numbers reported.
India, with 1.3 billion people, reported 348,000 new infections in the last 24 hours and lost 4,205 people to it — the highest-ever death count that the country has seen.
Additional reporting from agencies