All Eyes on Maharashtra's Vidarbha as 'Indian Variant' Alerts Scientists Amid Second Wave

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As second wave of coronavirus takes India by storm, international scientists are trying to decode the Covid variant B.1.617 that appears more infectious in India. A theory suggests the variant first emerged in Maharashtra’s Amravati and caused a massive surge in nearby districts in February, a Times of India report said.

The ‘Indian virus’ is said to be different from UK, Africa or Brazil variant. Maharashtra’s Vidarbha is now the focus point of international media and researchers. Nagpur has also come on the map of study of the Indian variant. “It's different than the UK, or Africa or Brazil variant, which have been discussed at the start of this wave," said infectious disease specialist Dr Nitin Shinde, was quoted as saying. The doctor believes that the surge in Amravati was also due to this variant. However, research is yet to conclude anything on this assumption.

“What we are labelling as double mutant variant is the B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV2. Apart from other mutations, it has two noteworthy mutations, E484Q and L425R, which can theoretically be responsible for increased transmissibility as well as probable immune escape,” said Dr Aparna Mukherjee, senior scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR),in an interview with News18. However, she said it is difficult to conclude if double mutant is behind the second wave. “Double mutants were being identified even months before the surge started,” she said.

Several countries like UK and Hong Kong have added India to travel red-list, while US advised its citizens to avoid visiting India even if they are completely vaccinated, in view of the new variant.

According to data by the eGlobal Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GSAID), B.1.617 was first detected in India in samples collected in December 2020. The GSAID have data of genome sequencing of Indian samples till April 3, until which the variant was found in 29% of samples in India.

Experts have expressed concern over the Indian variant which appears to be more infectious. Dr Atul Gawande of US President Joe Biden's Covid-19 control advisory team, termed it “extremely frightening”.

The fatality of the variant is yet to be researched upon. A study by virology researcher Grace Roberts of Queen's University, Belfast says this variant is around 20% more transmissible than the earlier form.

However, a sigh of relief in all this is that an ICMR study has shown that Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN is effective against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 and effectively neutralizes the double mutant of Covid-19 as well.

"ICMR study shows COVAXIN neutralises against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 and effectively neutralises the double mutant strain as well," ICMR said in a statement on Wednesday.

Covaxin is among the two vaccine to get Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for Covid-19 treatment and it's being used in India and in several other countries. Sputnik V has also got emergency use authorization and the vaccination is likely to begin before the end of this month.

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