Health officials said on Wednesday that a new type of coronavirus has been detected in India and is potentially disturbing, and the variants have also been discovered for the first time in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
However, Ministry of Health officials and experts cautioned against linking the variables to the continued rise in new infections in India.
Cases in India have been declining since September and life is back to normal. But cases began to rise last month and more than 47,000 new infections were discovered in the past 24 hours, along with 275 deaths – the highest number of deaths in a single day in more than four months.
The virus has mutated throughout the pandemic. Most of the mutations are trivial, but scientists are looking for mutations that might make the virus spread easily or make people more sick.
The three variables that were first discovered in South Africa, Britain and Brazil are of the most concern and have been categorized as “variables of concern”. The three variants were found in 7% of the approximately 11,000 samples India has sequenced since December 30. The most common of these was the most contagious type, which was discovered in the United Kingdom last year.
Dr. Rakesh Mishra, director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, one of the 10 research institutes that track the virus, said that the new variant found in India has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach itself to cells.
He added that these genetic modifications may be a source of concern because they may help the virus spread more easily and escape from the immune system, but he cautioned against linking it to the increase.
The Ministry of Health said in a statement that the variable was found in 15% -20% of serial samples from Maharashtra. The state, which includes India’s financial capital, was the hardest hit by the recent increase and accounts for more than 60% of all active cases in India.
The infections caused by this new species have been in those parts of the city that were, by far, the least affected, said Dr Sujit Singh, head of the National Center for Disease Control in New Delhi, in Nagpur, Maharashtra.
“The vulnerable population was … quite large,” Singh added.
Meanwhile, health officials have admitted they are worried about upcoming festivals, many of which indicate the arrival of spring. The government of India has written to the states to consider imposing restrictions, but many revelers have challenged the protocols of spacing and viruses.
Dr Vinita Pal, from India’s National Institute of Immunology, said it was this laxity and slowness in rolling out the vaccine that was most alarming. She said that unlike last year, the virus was spreading to wealthier neighborhoods, infecting families who managed to stay protected in their homes earlier. Now, people are less fearful and let their guard down. She said masks are being worn, “but the masks protect their beards, not their noses.”
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.