British officials could declare one of the new coronavirus strains first found in India a “variant of concern”, the BBC said, as India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said the deadly second COVID-19 wave sweeping the country would be “devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world”.
The BBC said scientists in the United Kingdom have flagged evidence that the Indian variant of the virus spreads more quickly than its original version, Reuters news agency reported on Friday.
Scientists have recommended that one version of the variant first found in India, known as B.1.617.2, is designated a “variant of concern”, the BBC said, adding more than 500 cases of the variant had been recorded, up from 202 last week.
COVID-19: New Variant In UK Could Be More Deadly, Data Suggests
Public Health England (PHE), which postponed publication of its weekly data on variants on Thursday, had no immediate comment on the report.
Jeff Barrett, director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute COVID-19 Genomics Initiative, said that high numbers of cases of B.1.617.2 in Britain and around the world were “consistent with this one being more transmissible than older versions of the virus from last year”.
“(It is) possibly as transmissible as the B.117 Kent variant that is very widespread in the UK,” Barrett said on BBC radio, referring to the strain found in southeast England which fuelled Britain’s second COVID-19 wave.
The original India variant, B.1.617, was first detected in October, but Public Health England (PHE) has categorised three different subtypes, all with slightly different mutations.
WHO says the variant has already spread to more than a dozen countries, forcing nations to cut or restrict movements from India.
Other variants of concern include variants first identified in Kent, southeast England, as well as South Africa and Brazil, and Barrett said that there had been reassuring evidence from real-world studies on the effectiveness of vaccines on those.
“That paints a relatively positive picture that the vaccines are going to continue to have efficacy,” he said.
“So obviously for new variants like this one, we need to do additional experiments and really get the solid proof one way or the other about that.”
Prominent US disease modeller Chris Murray, from the University of Washington, said the sheer magnitude of infections in India in a short period of time suggests an “escape variant” may be overpowering any prior immunity from natural infections.
Infections are now spreading from overcrowded cities to remote rural villages that are home to nearly 70 percent of the 1.3 billion population.
Although northern and western India bear the brunt of the disease, southern India now seems to be turning into the new epicentre. The share of the five southern states in the country’s daily surge in infections rose from 28 percent to 33 percent in the first seven days of May, data shows.