India Cities Reinstate Lockdowns Amid Discovery of a Double Mutant Virus Variant

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “India Cities Reinstate Lockdowns Amid Discovery of a Double Mutant Virus Variant” – below is their description.

    Cities around India are reinstating lockdowns as the discovery of a new variant, which has a so-called double mutation, is thought to be fueling India’s deadlier new wave of infections.

    As India’s daily tally of Covid-19 infections surge by a record 200,000-plus cases for three consecutive days, public health experts worry that a new — possibly more virulent — coronavirus variant could be racing through the crowded nation of more than 1.3 billion people.

    The new variant, which has a so-called double mutation, is thought to be fueling India’s deadlier new wave of infections that has made it the world’s second worst-hit country, surpassing Brazil, and has already begun to overwhelm its hospitals and crematoriums. The Asian nation has reported more than 14.5 million Covid cases so far and more than 175,600 fatalities.

    “This is a variant of interest we are following,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead officer on Covid, told reporters Friday. “Having two of these mutations, which have been seen in other variants around the world, are concerning,” she said, adding that there was a similarity with mutations that increase transmission as well as reduce neutralization, possibly stunting the ability of vaccines to curb them.

    The new strain underscores the insidious nature of viruses and threatens to thwart containment efforts in India, despite stringent measures such as the world’s largest lockdown last year. An exploding outbreak in India risks undoing a hard-won victory over the pathogen for others too, especially as this strain has now jumped to at least 10 other countries.

    Here’s what we know so far:

    How did the “double mutation” variant emerge?

    The new variant, called B.1.617, was initially detected in India with two mutations — the E484Q and L452R. It was first reported late last year by a scientist in India and more details were presented before the WHO on Monday, according to Van Kerkhove.

    Viruses mutate all the time, as part of evolutionary biology. Some mutations weaken the virus while others may make it stronger, enabling it to proliferate faster or cause more infections.

    India’s health ministry first acknowledged the presence of such a “double mutant” at the end of March, but has downplayed it since. While it’s a variant of interest, it “has not been stamped as a ‘variant of concern’ so as to say that it is more lethal or more infectious,” Aparna Mukherjee, a scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, which works under the nation’s health ministry, told Bloomberg TV on Friday.

    The double mutation has been found in several countries like Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S., according to an April 16 statement from the Indian government. “Higher transmissibility of this variant is not established as yet,” it said.

    Is it causing the record surge in infections in India?

    Genome sequencing indicates the variant as a possible culprit although the Indian government hasn’t confirmed it.

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