A new mutant virus found in India


A new mutant of the coronavirus has been detected in India. This strain is termed as highly infectious and may make the current vaccines less effective.

If this strain becomes loose, it may hinder the country’s progress made in the last few months in controlling the spread and complicate the battle to contain the second wave of infections, said the health ministry on Wednesday, March 24.

This strain has two mutations and can cause sickness in spite of the immunity developed by natural infection or vaccines. It is in addition to the UK, South African and Brazilian variants already circulating in 18 states of India.

The discovery of the faster-spreading strain, which comes exactly a year after the 24 March lockdown clamped to halt the pandemic, may force the government to put restrictions on public gatherings and add to the pressure on India’s health infrastructure.

“The analysis of samples from Maharashtra has revealed that compared to December 2020, there has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations. Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity,” the health ministry said.

“These mutations have been found in about 15-20% of samples and do not match any previously catalogued variants of concern, or VOCs (UK strain, South Africa variant and Brazil variant found in India). These have been categorized as VOCs but require the same epidemiological and public health response of ‘increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases and contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol by the States/UTs,” it said.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a group of 10 national laboratories established by the health ministry in December, has been carrying out genome sequencing and analysis of circulating covid-19 viruses and correlating epidemiological trends with genomic variants.

The government has said that though mutants and the new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in sufficient numbers to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states.

“So far, there is no established linkage between the recent surge in cases and mutation. There are many reasons for the surge—wherever the pool of susceptible population is bigger, and when they lower the guard by not following covid- appropriate behavior, they are prone to infection. It may also be noticed that the current SARS-COV-2 variants detected in the community have been prevalent since 6-8 months,” said Sujeet Kumar Singh, adding that variants of viruses are a natural phenomenon and are found in almost all countries.

But public health experts said the bigger worry is whether the available vaccines would work on these strains or not.