Several countries across Europe have begun reporting cases of the India coronavirus strain, with others restricting travel to and from India altogether.
A “double mutant” of the coronavirus, first discovered in India, has found its way to Europe. Health authorities across Germany, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Romania detected the new case of the Indian variant - B.1.617.
To control the spread of the B.1.617 variant several EU governments - France, Spain. Belgium, Germany, and Italy issued travel bans and restrictions to Indian arrivals. The move is part of the combined attempt to constrain the further spread of the new variant in areas of the continent with sluggish vaccination drives.
What is the Indian Variant?
B.1.617 has two mutations worth noting - E484Q and L452R. This has prompted guys to name this a “double mutant” strain which is something similar to a misnomer, as in combination it carries over a dozen mutations altogether. The mutations are on the outer “spike” part of the virus attaching to human skin cells.
Preliminary evidence showed B.1.617 to be more transmissible yet less susceptible to vaccines than other strains, an area where scientists are still trying to determine to what extent this is the case.
The WHO discovered the predominant lineage of B.1.617 in India last December, though an earlier version was also found in October 2020. It earned the “variant of interest” designation which indicates multiple mutations that would make it more transmissible resulting in severe cases of diseases or evasion of vaccine immunity. Other strains with known risks are such as those discovered in South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Brazil - are categorized as “variants of concern,” with a higher threat level.
Are variants behind the surge in cases?
According to the WHO, there is a need for further study. Lab studies on limited sample sizes suggest a potential increase in levels of transmission. B.117 is highly transmissible and was first discovered in parts of India. Many have attributed the sheer magnitude of infections in India within a short time to an “escape variant” which overpowers any previous immunity arising from natural infections in those populations.
India's Prime Minister has undergone lots of criticism over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic during the election cycle. Part of the castigation goes to the holding of massive political rallies and other religious festivals known as super spreader events in recent weeks.
Can vaccinations stop Covid-19?
A bright spot in the vaccines regime is the level of protection. According to the White House Chief Advisor, Anthony Fauci, preliminary evidence from lab studies show that Covaxin, a vaccine developed in India, has the ability to neutralize the variant.
According to Public Health England, there is no evidence that the Indian variant results in severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed ineffectively.