The World Health Organization reported on Tuesday that a version of Covid-19, which is suspected of leading to an increase in coronavirus cases in India, has been discovered in more than a dozen countries.
According to the UN health department, the B.1.617 version of Covid-19, which was discovered in India, had been observed in over 1,200 sequences submitted to the GISAID open-access database “from at least 17 countries” as of Tuesday.
“The majority of sequences were uploaded from India, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Singapore,” the WHO said in its weekly pandemic epidemiological update.
The WHO recently designated B.1.617 as a “variant of interest,” which includes many sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics.
However, it has not yet declared it a “variant of concern.”
This mark would mean that it is more harmful than the original form of the virus, for example, by being more transmissible, lethal, or capable of evading vaccine protections.
The pandemic is causing an increase in new cases and deaths in India, and concerns are growing that the variant could be leading to the disaster.
The rise in infections in India — 350,000 new cases were reported there alone on Tuesday — has pushed the global case count to 147.7 million.
More than 3.1 million people have died as a result of the outbreak.
According to the WHO, preliminary modelling based on sequences submitted to GISAID suggests that “B.1.617 has a higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, indicating possible increased transmissibility.”
It emphasised that other variants circulating at the same time were also showing increased transmissibility, and that the combination “may be playing a role in this country’s current resurgence.”
“Indeed, studies have shown that the propagation of the second wave was much faster than the first,” the WHO said.
However, it was noted that “other drivers” such as weak adherence to public health policies and mass meetings may be contributing to the surge.
“Further research is needed to understand the relative contribution of these factors,” it said.
The UN agency also emphasised that “further rigorous studies” into the characteristics of B.1.617 and other variants, including their effects on transmissibility, intensity, and the risk of reinfection, is “urgently required.”