The World Health Organization (WHO) has termed the India coronavirus variant as a ‘variant of concern’, indicating that it is now a global threat.
In the briefing on Monday, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Technical lead for COVID-19, said that preliminary studies found that the B.1.617 was more contagious.
More studies needed
They also said that they had evidence that the variant could also escape some of the protections provided by vaccines. However, the shots remained effective.
Furthermore, she revealed that they still needed more studies into the B.1.617 to learn more about the virus’s lineage.
“And as such, we are classifying it as a variant of concern globally,” Kerkhov said during the press conference, “Even though it shows increased transmissibility demonstrated by preliminary studies, we still need more information on this virus variant in this lineage of all sublineages. So, we need to do more sequencing, targeted sequencing.”
However, Kerkhov clarified that all SARS-CoV-2 viruses in circulation remained of concern and thus, people needed to continue taking measures regardless.
“We need to ensure that we take all of the measures at hand to prevent ourselves from getting sick,” she said.
Classification of variants
The World Health Organization classifies a variant as a ‘variant of interest’ as more studies are done on it to understand its significance. However, they label a variant as one ‘of concern’ if it shows to be more contagious, deadlier or resistant to current treatment and vaccines.
However, WHO has clarified that the current COVID-19 vaccines effectively prevent severe disease and death in people infected with the B.1.617. Additionally, the WHO will release the full details on the B.1.617 variant today (Tuesday), which will describe its three sublineages.
India has been averaging more than 400,000 infections a day over the last week, with deaths rising above 3,800 on average.
The B.1.617 is the third to be classified as a ‘variant of concern.’ The others are the B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom, the B.1.351, detected first in South Africa and the P.1, detected first in Brazil. All have shown easy transmissibility.