Health
India reports ‘double mutant’ coronavirus variant as daily deaths peak for year

India reports ‘double mutant’ coronavirus variant as daily deaths peak for year

A potentially troublesome new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in India, as have variants first detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, health officials said on Wednesday.

Ministry of Health officials and experts, however, have warned of the link between the variants and a continued rise in new infections in India.

Cases in India had been dropping since September and life was returning to normal. But cases started to rise last month and more than 47,000 new infections were detected in the past 24 hours, along with 275 deaths – the highest number of deaths in one day in more than four months.

The virus mutated throughout the pandemic. Most of the mutations are insignificant, but scientists have studied variations that could make the virus spread more easily or make people sicker.

The three variants first detected in South Africa, Great Britain and Brazil are considered to be the most worrying and have been designated “variants of concern”.

All three variants were found in seven percent of the nearly 11,000 samples sequenced by India since December 30. The most prevalent of these was the most contagious variant that was detected in the UK last year.

The new variant found in India has two mutations in the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to cells, said Dr Rakesh Mishra, director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, one of 10 research institutes sequencing the virus. .

He added that these genetic changes could be of concern as they could help the virus spread more easily and escape the immune system, but he warned of the link between the new variant and the flare.

Workers work on personal protective equipment to be used as a preventive measure against the coronavirus during a workshop in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. (Sam Panthaky / AFP / Getty Images)

The most affected state of Maharashtra

The health ministry said in a statement that the variant was found in 15-20% of samples sequenced in Maharashtra state. The state, home to India’s financial capital, has been hit hardest by the recent outbreak and accounts for over 60% of all active cases in India.

In the city of Nagpur, Maharashtra, infections caused by this new variant were in parts of the city that had so far been least affected, said Dr Sujeet Singh, head of the National Center for disease control in New Delhi.

“The sensitive population pool … was substantially important,” Singh added.

Meanwhile, health officials admitted they were concerned about upcoming festivals, many of which mark the coming of spring. The Indian government has written to states to consider imposing restrictions, but many celebrants have defied distancing and virus protocols.

WATCH | COVID-19 cases rise in India amid religious holiday, vaccine hesitation:

One of the world’s biggest religious festivals takes place in India and public health officials are concerned. Not only is the country a COVID-19 hotspot, vaccine reluctance is high and experts say many people mistakenly believe the country has achieved herd immunity. 2:17

This lax attitude and the slow roll-out of vaccines are worrying, said Dr Vineeta Bal of the Indian National Institute of Immunology.

She said that, unlike last year, the virus was spreading to wealthier neighborhoods, infecting families who had managed to stay protected in their homes earlier.

Now people are less afraid and let their guard down, and Bal said masks are worn, “but masks protect people’s beards, rather than their noses.”

Vaccination eligibility widens

Federal Information Minister Prakash Javadekar on Tuesday announced that India will start immunizing all people over 45 from April 1.

India’s vaccination so far has focused on the elderly or over 45 with conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. The vaccine is offered free of charge in public hospitals and sold for a fixed price of 250 rupees (CAN $ 4.32) by injection in private hospitals.

An artist is working on a mural of the Mona Lisa wearing a face mask to raise awareness about COVID-19 in Mumbai on Wednesday. (Rajanish Kakade / The Associated Press)

India has given the green signal for the use of two vaccines – the AstraZeneca vaccine made locally by the Serum Institute and another by Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech.

Javadekar also said that the interval between the two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be increased up to eight weeks, compared to the four to six weeks advised earlier.

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