The World Health Organization on Tuesday said that the coronavirus variant first discovered in India has been found in at least 17 other countries, reported AFP.

The WHO said that the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19 was as of Tuesday detected in over 1,200 sequences uploaded to the GISAID database from these countries. GISAID is a global open-access database for genomic data of influenza viruses and the coronavirus.

“Most sequences were uploaded from India, the United Kingdom, USA [United States of America] and Singapore,” the United Nations health agency said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic.

The WHO had listed the B.1.617 mutation as a “variant of interest”, stopping short of declaring it as a “variant of concern”. The latter tag would mean that B.1.617 variant – which has several sub-lineages with slightly different variants and characteristics – is more dangerous than the original virus by being more transmissible, deadly or possessing the ability to avoid vaccine protections, among other factors.

The health agency said that its preliminary enquiry from the over 1,200 sequenced genomes indicates that the variant “has a higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility”.

It said the other variants in India were also showing higher transmissibility, adding that the combination could have a role in the resurgence of the infection in the country. “Indeed, studies have highlighted that the spread of the second wave has been much faster than the first,” the WHO said.

Coronavirus cases in India had dropped to a relatively low figure but daily infections started rising at an alarming rate in March. Now, the country is continuously reporting the highest single-day infection count in the world.

On Wednesday, India registered a record 3,60,960 new coronavirus cases in a day, taking the total number of infections since the pandemic broke out in January 2020 to 1,79,97,267. This is the seventh consecutive day that the country has recorded more than 3 lakh cases.

In its weekly update, the WHO also said that there could be other factors contributing to the surge in cases in India, including mass gatherings and people not adhering to coronavirus-related norms.

“Further investigation is needed to understand the relative contribution of these factors,” the health agency said.

It also stressed that more studies were “urgently needed” to be conducted into the characteristics of B.1.617 and other variants.

The B.1.617 variant was first detected in Maharashtra in October, show GISAID records. It was initially thought to comprise two mutations – E484Q and L452R – and hence, referred to as a “double mutant” variant. But now scientists believe the variant consists of more mutations: E154K, P681R and Q1071H.

Viruses mutate all the time, resulting in millions and millions of new variants. However, what has made scientists worry about B.1.617 is the presence of three mutations, E484Q, L452R and P6814 – the reason why some are now referring to it as a “triple mutant” variant. These mutations have been found in other “variants of concern”, a term currently being used for the variants from UK, South Africa and Brazil.

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