A novel variant of the Sars-Cov-2 was detected by the Union health ministry, when subsequently, on Wednesday (24th march) India recorded a new high of 53,410 new Covid-19 cases, which is the highest since October 23. The variant described as “double mutant” has been found in Delhi, Maharashtra, and some other places in addition to the three "variants of concern" - first tested in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil.
Ramanan Laxminarayan, the founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi, said, “Double mutant is not a scientific term. It is just another mutant which seems to be unique to India.”
“Is there a reason to be worried about this particular variant? Not as yet, because we have no evidence that these variants are more transmissible or more lethal than what we already have,” he added.
Currently, the total tally of coronavirus cases as of April 1 2021 stands at 12.3 million, with around 11.5 million recoveries and a death count due to the virus amounting to a total of 163,000.
How dangerous is this new mutant?
Genome sequencing helps to understand how a virus mutates. The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG) which is a grouping of 10 labs across the country studied a section of virus samples and discovered the existence of two mutations, E484Q and L452R together, in at least 206 virus samples from Maharashtra, as well as a few from Delhi, Punjab, and Gujarat. Thus, in the coming days, an analysis of the variant will be by the INSACOG to a global repository called GISAID to conclude whether this mutant comes under the category of “Variant of Concern” (VOC).
This is an important parameter to check as if it falls under the VOC category it has a high possibility to impact the efficacy of vaccines and play a major role in the spike of the COVID-19 cases. Currently, there exist three important variants of concern i.e. the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7), the South African (B.1.351), and the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.
Is the vaccine effective against the new mutant?
It has been seen that the UK variant is the most common of the variants to be found in 736 people in 18 states. The South Africa variant which is known for reducing vaccine efficacy is tested in 34 people across seven states, and one person has been found with the Brazil variant. However, health experts also confirm that the two vaccines approved vaccines in India are seen to be effective against variants of the virus first identified in Britain and Brazil.
Measures to be adopted to battle this new variant
The health ministry asserts that identification of the new variant does not imply the immediate need for new public health measures. “It would require the same epidemiological and public health response of increased testing, comprehensive tracking of close contacts, prompt isolation of positive cases & contacts as well as treatment as per National Treatment Protocol” by the States/UTs.”, it says.
Anurag Agrawal, Director, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, said, “Presence of a VOC or suspected VOC does not automatically mean that they are causing the outbreak, but rather suggests caution and implementation of public health measures for containment.”
“This must of course be paralleled with an investigation into the VOC — known and suspected — in terms of transmissibility, inhibition by antibodies of recovered people, and inhibition by antibodies of vaccinated people. Doing this together will help formulate the best health policy”, he added.
According to Livemint, Pune’s National Institute of Virology confirmed that E484Q mutation can possibly escape antibody neutralization while L452R can shoot up the rate of transmission. Thus, the report published in health and science-based news website Down To Earth said that the institute is currently in its attempts to isolate the mutant virus for conducting detailed tests.