Since the first case of Covid-19 was diagnosed in 2019 in China, there have been over 150 million confirmed cases around the world with over 3 million recorded deaths. In India alone, there have been over 18 million confirmed cases with over 200,000 deaths till date. Due to these massive numbers, India was one of the first countries to take to the forefront in this battle against Covid-19 as she promptly began research and tests for various vaccines.
However, despite all of India’s effort to prevent an increase in the number of cases, India still records about 200,000 new Covid cases daily.
Amidst many other reasons (such as disregard of Covid-19 Safety Protocols, large gatherings, and the exposed incompetence of the Indian health care system), the recent discovery another kind of Covid-19 variant called the B.1.617 variant or “double mutant” is suspected. This has been the cause of debate as to whether or not it is the major cause of the crippling effects of the second wave on India.
What About Variants?
Naturally, viruses tend to constantly undergo minute changes in their genes that allow them to mutate into either more lethal or less lethal pathogens. These mutations, however, could also elicits no new change in the viruses’ virulence or mode of action on the host’s cells.
In the case of the Indian Covid-19 mutant strain, there is an overall 13 mutations that change the sequence of its amino acids
The mutations of greatest concern however are the mutations that affect the way the virus binds and enters to its hosts cells. There are certain proteins that are peculiar to the Covid-19 virus. The virus uses these specific proteins to gain access into the host cells. Most vaccines are effective against the virus because of the effects they have on these Covid-19 specific proteins, also known as spike proteins. If there is a change in the type of spike proteins therefore, the effect of the vaccines on such viruses may be reduced causing resistance and ineffective treatment.
Why the Increase in the Number of Daily Cases?
Many scientists propose that the current vaccines being used in India should still have their proposed effects on the mutant virus and that therefore, the reason for India’s rise in daily Covid cases may have been due to large gatherings at state-level elections, international cricket matches and religious festivals.
“India’s high population and density is a perfect incubator for this virus to experiment with mutations,” says Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge.
Even though the Indian government blames the new variant as the cause of the rise in the number of Covid-19 cases, Professor Martin Hibberd, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine says, “The disease is exposing the weak healthcare system…”
B.1.617- the Indian Variant- was first submitted to the global database GISAID on 5 October 2020. By 19 April 2021, B.1.617 had been picked up in 21 countries, with the US reporting its first case on 23 February.
Research is still ongoing and not much is known about the mutant virus, however from data gotten so far, this mutant strain seems to be less infectious than other strains found around the world. In response to this the Public Health England has listed the India variant as one of several “variants under investigation” but does not so far consider it serious enough to be classified as a “variant of concern”. The world admonishes the people of India to pay more attention to safety measures and turn up more for vaccination.