TOPLINE As India continues to face a devastating second wave of the pandemic, the World Health Organisation on Monday classified the coronavirus variant first detected in the country–B.1.617—as a variant of concern following preliminary findings which suggest it could be more transmissible.
The WHO’s new classification—which is an upgrade from “variant of interest”—adds the Indian variant to a list that also contains variants first detected in the U.K. (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1).
The global health body will publish a detailed report on the B.1.617 variant in its weekly epidemiological update on Tuesday, the WHO’s technical lead officer on Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove said.
Kerkhove noted that some available information suggested that the variant showed “increased transmissibility,” and a non-peer-reviewed study on a limited number of patients also suggested that it may also be able to evade some key antibodies.
3,876. That’s the total number of Covid-19 deaths India reported on Tuesday, taking its official tally up to 249,992—which many experts suggest is a severe undercount. The country’s daily infection and fatalities have continued to remain high despite a drop in new infections in key cities like Mumbai and Delhi.
The second wave of the pandemic has continued to rage across India pushing the country’s health care system past its breaking point. As the country reports more than 350,000 new infections and nearly 4,000 deaths from Covid-19 every day, the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government are under increasing pressure to impose a strict nationwide lockdown. Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India’s main opposition party has written a letter to Modi which slams his government’s failures and notes that “another devastating national lockdown is almost inevitable.” Several others, including medical experts, Supreme Court judges and other opposition leaders and even Dr. Anthony Fauci—the U.S.’s senior-most infectious disease official—have called for a national shut down to break the chain of transmission.
By Siladitya Ray, Forbes Staff