A “double mutant” variant is a viral strain which carries two mutations. It is not yet known how many infections have been linked to this double mutant variant, or whether the strain is more dangerous, but the ministry said that “such mutations confer immune leakage and increased infectivity.”
According to the ministry, the number of known cases linked to the double mutation was not high enough to explain the current spike in infections nationwide,
India recorded 53,476 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday – the largest single-day increase in five months. The last time the daily tally was this high was on October 23, according to a CNN tally of figures from the Department of Health.
But by early March, it became clear that cases were slowly increasing again – and they have exploded in recent weeks.
India has now reported a total of more than 11.7 million cases and 160,000 related deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“I would say this is the start of a second wave,” said Randeep Guleria, director of the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences, on Wednesday. “This is something that has already been seen in many European countries; we seem to follow them. ”
There are a number of factors – one being Covid fatigue, and the potential for people to be less careful due to the winter drop in infections. “You see in the community, when you go out, wearing a mask has become less and less important,” said Guleria. “We see crowds growing up, partying, a lot of wedding ceremonies going on in India. ”
Another factor could be the rise of “variants that will come to India from other parts of the world,” he said, pointing to the strain first detected in the UK, which has since spread. in many Indian states …
Variants and mutations
All viruses evolve over time and sometimes make changes when they replicate, causing mutations. Some mutations have little effect – but others could make the variant more easily transmitted or cause infections with more severe symptoms.
According to the Department of Health, 771 cases of variants of concern have been detected out of approximately 10,787 samples analyzed by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 genomics consortium in 18 states. Thirty-four was the variant first identified in South Africa and one was the P.1 variant of Brazil.
Although the ministry said these do not correlate with the recent spike in cases, the variants have mostly been detected in states of “serious concern” with the highest numbers, including Punjab and Maharashtra. And now double mutations have been reported.
So far this year in Maharashtra, “there has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations,” the ministry said in its press release. They were found in 15-20% of the samples and do not match any previously cataloged variant of concern, the ministry said, adding that “these mutations confer immune leakage and increased infectivity.”
It is not unusual to see multiple mutations in a single variant. “All of these viruses (variants) that we are dealing with are already mutants,” said virologist T Jacob John. The strain that became widespread around the world was already different from the first strain that originated in Wuhan, China, he added.
The strain first found in the UK, officially called variant B.1.1.7, has 23 mutations compared to the original strain found in Wuhan, according to the American Society of Microbiology.
The Brazilian variant known as P.1 has 17 mutations, and the South African variant known as B.1.351 also has several mutations, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How dangerous a mutation is depends on where it occurs in the virus. For example, the South African variant has mutations that alter the structure of the spike protein, which appear to affect the receptor binding domain – the part of the spike protein most important for cell attachment and infection. . Researchers are currently studying whether it could help the virus to partially escape the effects of vaccines.
Guleria warned that a double mutation was not necessarily a cause for alarm, as researchers are still studying the effect of the mutations.
“They don’t know exactly what the meaning is,” he said. “Does this have clinical significance or is it just an observation?” And that has to be linked to the epidemiological data, which is done. ”
One question is which variants – and which mutations – might escape the effects of our existing vaccines.
“If someone was infected with coronavirus six months ago, that person is immune to the unmutated coronavirus,” John said. “But is the person still immune to the variants?” (It must be) studied. ”
Vaccination campaign in India
In the meantime, Indian authorities are working to control the peak by implementing new restrictions and stepping up the country’s vaccination program.
India administers two vaccines nationally. One is Covishield, a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and produced by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. The other is India’s first coronavirus vaccine, Covaxin, jointly developed by Bharat Biotech and the government-run Medical Research Council of India.
India has administered more than 50 million doses of the vaccine so far, with more than 8.1 million people fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Serum Institute of India not only produces most of the vaccines for India, it is also responsible for most of the vaccines distributed in the rest of the world. In September of last year, SII pledged to manufacture and deliver 200 million doses for COVAX – a WHO vaccine alliance set up to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
But SII has had to halt or delay its exports several times in recent months as global and domestic demand increased.
On January 4, India restricted the export of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by SII to at least March. “We were given a restricted license only to give it and provide it to the Indian government because they want to prioritize the most vulnerable and needy segments first,” SII CEO said at the time, Adar Poonawalla. “The only condition is that we can only supply to the Indian government, we cannot sell it in the private market and we cannot export it. ”
On Thursday, Reuters reported that India would likely delay deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines to COVAX, citing UNICEF. India had temporarily suspended all major exports of AstraZeneca clichés made by SII to meet domestic demand, according to Reuters.
CNN has reached out to SII, UNICEF and the Department of External Affairs for comment, but has yet to receive a response.
The Home Office also introduced new infection control guidelines on Tuesday, which will be in place until the end of April. Some of the measures include the rapid isolation of positive cases and tracing their contacts within 72 hours.
Several cities and states, including Mumbai, Delhi and Odisha, have banned gatherings during Holi, the upcoming Festival of Colors, on March 28.