WHO classifies Covid variant with triple mutants from India as global health risk


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The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is attending a press conference organized by the United Nations Correspondents’ Association (ACANU) in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic caused by the new coronavirus on July 3, 2020 at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Fabrice Coffrini AFP | Getty Images

A World Health Organization official said on Monday that it was reclassifying the highly contagious triple mutant variant of Covid spreading in India into a “worrying variant,” indicating it had become a global health threat.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical manager for Covid-19, said the agency would provide more details in its weekly report on the pandemic situation on Tuesday, but added that variant, known as B.1.617, it has been found in preliminary studies to spread more easily than the original virus and there is some evidence that it could avoid some of the protections provided by vaccines.

“And as such, we classify this as a variant of global concern,” she said during a news conference. “Although some preliminary studies have shown increased transmissibility, we need much more information about this variant of the virus in this lineage in all sublines, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing.”

A patient with Covid-19 coronavirus is resting in a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid care center in New Delhi on May 10, 2021.

Arun Sankar | AFP | Getty Images

WHO he said last week carefully monitored at least 10 variants of coronavirus worldwide, including B.1.617. The variant was previously marked as a “variant of interest”, because more studies were needed to fully understand its significance, Van Kerkhove said.

“Which means for anyone at home that any of the circulating SARS-CoV-2 viruses can infect and spread you and everything in that sense worries you,” she said Monday. “So all of us at home, no matter where we live, no matter what virus is circulating, we need to make sure we take every precaution to prevent getting sick.”

A variant can be described as “worrying” if it has been shown to be more contagious, deadly and resistant to current vaccines and treatments, According to the WHO.

The group issued an explanation on Monday for its earlier statements, saying current data shows that existing Covid-19 vaccines “remain effective in preventing disease and death in people infected with this variant.”

The international organization has already classified three more variants by classification: B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in the UK and is the most widespread variant currently circulating in the US; B.1.351, first discovered in South Africa and P.1 variant, first discovered in Brazil.

B.1.617 has three sublines, Van Kerkhove said, which will be described in Tuesday’s situation report.

Some believe this variant is behind the latest wave of infections in India.

According to data collected from Johns Hopkins University, there are an average of about 3,879 deaths a day in the country, although media reports show that the official figure is underestimated. In the past seven days, it has recorded an average of about 391,000 new cases a day – about 4% more than last week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Since then, the variant has spread to other countries, including the United States.

– CNBC’s Rich Mendez contributed to this report.

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