The double mutant type of the coronavirus detected in India can be considered a “variant of concern”, the country’s Principal Scientific Adviser K VijayRaghavan told the Hindustan Times in an interview on Wednesday.
“It’s reasonable to say that the variant is of concern because it has been found in a significant number of people,” VijayRaghavan said. He also said that the physiological effect of the mutation was of significance, adding that Indian scientists were carrying out further tests to determine its exact biological consequences.
VijayRaghavan’s comment is the first time a top government official has publicly flagged concerns around the double mutant variant, which is suspected to be one of the factors behind the massive second wave of coronavirus in India.
Last month, the Centre had said that the double mutant variant and other “variants of concern” had been detected in 18 states in India. It said that the mutations were found in 15%-20% of the analysed infected samples from Maharashtra but did not link the variant with the second wave. However, reports have suggested that 61% of the Covid-19 samples taken from Maharashtra between January and March have shown the double mutation.
The double mutation, as the name suggests, involves two variants of the virus. The E484Q mutation has characteristics of a previously detected variant – the E484K – which was seen in the fast-spreading Brazilian and South African variants, making it highly transmissible. The L452R mutation, on the other hand, helps the virus evade the body’s immune response. The double mutation strain was subsequently named B.1.617.
The principal scientific adviser said that vaccines available against the coronavirus were likely to offer protection against the variant, even though the effect of the shot might be less than normal.
He said that the government’s recent decision to fast-track emergency approvals for foreign-produced vaccines cleared in other countries will let the government allow inoculation for wider groups of people, the Hindustan Times reported.
He added that vaccines produced by pharmaceutical companies Johnson and Johnson and Novavax were expected in India “very soon”. However, supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines may face difficulties due to their prior commitments, VijayRaghavan said.
The scientist also provided a ray of hope while speaking on the upward trend of coronavirus cases in India. He said that the current wave may begin to ebb in a couple of weeks, as the restrictions imposed begin to show impact.
“The intense efforts started a couple of weeks ago, so we should start seeing the beginnings of change very soon, and as those efforts continue you’ll start seeing the impact further and further,” he said.
VijayRaghavan said that the second wave was caused due to multiple factors, including fatigue among people to follow restrictions, and their economic compulsions. He, however, claimed that healthcare professionals were better prepared to handle the situation this time.
After reporting less than 10,000 cases per day earlier this year, India has recorded more than 1.5 lakh daily cases for the past five days. On Thursday, India recorded more than 2 lakh cases in the preceding 24 hours – a record high since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. The country now has 1.4 crore cases and 1,73,123 deaths.
Several states have reported vaccine shortages, with some also reporting a dwindling supply of medical oxygen, hospital beds, and the vital drug remdesivir. Despite this, political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been addressing massive rallies and roadshows without masks. Experts have also warned that religious gatherings and the farmers’ protest will be super spreaders of the coronavirus.