WHO officially classifies coronavirus strain from India as “variant of concern”

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared a coronavirus strain first identified in India as a global “variant of concern”, citing preliminary study findings pointing to higher transmissibility than some other known variants. 

“And as such we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, during a press conference late Monday.

Also known as Lineage B.1.617, the variant was first identified in Maharashtra, India in October 2020 and has been linked to the current crisis and Covid-19 surge in India.

It is the fourth variant classified by the WHO as a global threat, as emerging studies not only found it to be more contagious than previously evolved variants, but pointed to some evidence that it may be able to evade some of the protections provided by the vaccines. 

The vaccinations, however, are still considered effective and encouraged.

“Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sub lineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done,” Van Kerkhove said.

The variant has now spread to at least 49 countries globally including Thailand, which reported its first case on Monday. 

Meanwhile, India continues to struggle to contain the outbreak of the new strain. The country reported a further 329,517 new cases and 3,879 new deaths on Monday, according to monitoring website Worldometers.

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