Indian B.1.617 COVID-19 Variant Found in 44 Countries: WHO

After India, Britain has reported the largest number of COVID cases caused by the variant.

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Image used for representational purpose

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday, 12 May, that the COVID-19 variant responsible for the surge in India's COVID outbreak has been found in as many as 44 countries across the world.

First found in India in October last year, the B.1.617 COVID-19 variant, has been detected in more than 4,500 samples uploaded to an open-access database “from 44 countries in all six WHO regions”, said the UN health agency.

In its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic, the UN health agency said, "WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries.”

After India, Britain has reported the largest number of COVID cases caused by the variant.


Earlier this week, the WHO declared B.1.617 as a "variant of concern", news agency AFP reported. The variant counts three so-called sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics.

WHO has added the B.1.617 variant to the list containing three other variants of COVID-19, those first detected in Britain, Brazil, and South Africa, as it appears to be easily transmittable in comparison to the original virus, in view of the “rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries”.

The Britain, Brazil, and South Africa variants are seen as more grievous than the original version of the virus because they are either more transmissible, deadly or able to get past some vaccine protections.

WHO also pointed to "preliminary evidence" that the variant was more resistant to treatment with the monoclonal antibody Bamlanivimab, and also highlighted early lab studies indicating "limited reduction in neutralisation by antibodies", AFP reported.

However, it stressed that "real-world impacts" on the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant for instance "may be limited".

India’s Second Wave

India, with a population of 1.38 billion people, is the world's second-most infected country after the United States with nearly 23 million COVID-19 cases, and is currently recording more than 3,00,000 new cases and close to 4,000 deaths per day.

WHO said the spread of B.1.617, alongside other more transmittable variants, seems to be one of several factors increasing India's explosive surge in new cases and deaths.

WHO further found that, “resurgence and acceleration of COVID-19 transmission in India had several potential contributing factors, including increase in the proportion of cases of SARS-CoV-2 variants with potentially increased transmissibility”.

“Several religious and political mass gathering events that increased social mixing; and, under-use of and reduced adherence to public health and social measures,” were also pointed out by WHO.

WHO added that so far only 0.1 percent of COVID tests in India had been genetically sequenced and uploaded to the GISAID database to identify the variant in question.

By the end of April, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 accounted for 21 and seven percent respectively of all sequenced samples from India, it said.

The B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in Britain, is another more contagious variant also spreading across the country.

(With inputs from AFP)

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