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The Double Mutant Strain: Is It Behind India’s Second COVID Wave?

Should you worry about this new double mutant variant? We answer all your questions.

Updated
COVID-19
3 min read
FAQ on Double Mutant variant of COVID-19. Image used for representation only.
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A new double mutation variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus may be behind India’s more deadlier second wave infections. This variant has also now made it to Brazil, the world’s second worst-hit country by the pandemic.

This new double mutant strain of the virus, known as B.1.167, according to experts, has raised red flags and led to widespread gene surveillance to look for its prevalence and spread.

In an earlier interview with FIT, virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University Dr Shahid Jameel spoke regarding the new double mutant virus.

Should you worry about the new variant? We answer all your questions.

How did the “double mutation” variant emerge?

The double mutation – B.1.617 – comprises of two variants of the virus, making it a distance lineage. These include the E484Q mutation, which is similar to another variant, the E484K, found in the fast-spreading Brazilian and South African variants of concern. It also includes the L452R mutation, which helps the virus escape our body’s natural immune response.

Are virus mutations common?

Dr Jameel explains that mutations are natural phenomena. “Some are selected as they provide some positive effect on the virus. This is what’s happening with these mutant lineages. If the mutation was detrimental to the virus we don’t see it because it will not survive.”

Is this double-mutation causing the second wave of infections in India?

Even though the Centre hasn’t confirmed it yet, genome sequencing indicates the variant as the possible culprit.

The Centre found mutations in 15-20 percent of cases from Maharashtra in March but did not link them to the wave at the time.

The prevalence of this variant is now more than 60 percent in cities like Mumbai, reported Bloomberg, quoting Anurag Agarwal, Director of the state-run Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s genomics institute.

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Does this new variant have a higher fatality rate?

The jury is still out on the fatality rate as genome sequencing is still undergoing.

However, this mutation does have a higher transmission rate by 20 percent, and reduces antibody efficacy by more than 50 percent.

Do the current vaccines work against this new variant?

It’s hard to know for sure without adequate data and research. India is testing whether the new variants, including the B.1.617, are capable of “immune escape or not,” reported Bloomberg, quoting a source at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Has the new variant been found outside India?

This variant has been detected in at least 10 other countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, according to the situation report on outbreak.info.

A surveillance report by the UK government said it has found 77 cases in England and Scotland so far, designating it as a “Variant Under Investigation.”

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Are there any more mutations in India?

According to Dr Jameel, there is another mutation emerging from South India called N443K.

Will the novel coronavirus mutate forever?

According to Dr Jameel, after a while, mutations become detrimental to the virus and this is natural in evolution.

“There is no cause for worry but cause for concern. Instead of worrying, the best thing we can do is follow COVID-appropriate behaviour.”

Have there been any travel restrictions due to this double mutant variant?

The United States’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel advisory for citizens, asking them to avoid travel to India. This comes in light of their assessment of the COVID-19 situation in India as “very high” risk.

The United Kingdom had added India to its travel ‘red list’ on Monday, 19 April, amid the surge in COVID cases in the country.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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