The worsening situation in India has raised concerns about the novel variant of the virus and its transmissibility.
B.1.617, a novel COVID-19 variant that has been discovered in India and other countries around the world, may be slightly more transmissible due to 2 key mutations.
The 2 mutations on B.1.617 have also been discovered on other variants of COVID-19 that have been known to be spreading for some time now. The first, L452R, has been present in the strain that has been dominant in California. The second, E484Q, has been present in the dominant variant first detected in South Africa.
The two mutations have raised concerns of the B.1.617 variants transmissibility, and preliminary evidence has suggested that it may be slightly more transmissible.
Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested during an interview on Saturday that this may be the cause of the worsening situation in India.
“In a large country like India, you could have transmission at low levels, which is what happened for many months,” Swaminathan said. “At that point it’s very hard to suppress, because it’s then involving tens of thousands of people and it’s multiplying at a rate at which it’s very difficult to stop.”
However, she also noted that huge social mixing and large gatherings are also to blame.
"The virus doesn't respect borders, or nationalities, or age, or sex or religion," Swaminathan said. "And what's playing out in India now unfortunately has been played out in other countries."
India has been in the midst of a brutal wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting over 300,000 new infections on Tuesday alone. Since April 28, the country has seen roughly 3,000 people die due to the disease every day.
Only 10% of its population has received at least 1 dose of a vaccine, and only 2% have been fully inoculated against the virus.
"We really need to double down on vaccination as quickly as possible or the virus is going to try and do everything it can to keep on spreading from person to person," Swaminathan said.