India detects a new ‘double mutant’ variant of COVID-19 as it battles second wave of infections

India detects a new ‘double mutant’ variant of COVID-19 as it battles second wave of infections
A new 'double mutant' variant of COVID-19 has been detected in IndiaBCCL
  • A new ‘double mutant’ variant of COVID-19 has been detected in 15-20% of the positive samples that have come in from Maharashtra.
  • This new variant of COVID-19 does not match the parameters of any previously known variant, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW).
  • The ministry believes that there is not enough data yet to determine whether or not there is a causality between this new variant and the second spike in COVID-19 cases across the country.
India has found a new ‘double mutant’ variant of COVID-19 in nearly one-fifth of the samples from Maharashtra analysed by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG).

The news comes at a time when the country is dealing with its second spike of COVID-19 cases nationwide and daily deaths have hit at an all-time high for 2021.

“There has been an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) said in a statement. “These mutations have been found in about 15-20% of samples and do not match any previously catalogued VOCs [variants of concern].”

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The new variant of COVID-19 debilitates the immune system further and increases infectivity, according to the ministry.

However, the new ‘double mutant’ version of the virus has not been established as the cause behind the rapid increase in the number of cases in certain states. “Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyse the situation,” said MoHFW in a statement.

Variants of concern detected so far may only be the tip of the iceberg
INSACOG has detected a total of 771 variants of concerns in the country after analysing 10,787 positive samples. The samples with these variants have been identified in 18 states across the country.

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VariantNumber of positive samples
UK variant736
South Africa variant34
Brazilian variant1

And, this may only be the tip of the iceberg. An unnamed official from the health ministry told Down to Earth that less than 1% of the total positive samples received till January 2020 through to 18 March 2021 have been sequenced by INSACOG.

Other countries around the world started the exercise of genome sequencing — studying the changes in the structure of COVID-19 over time — right at the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, India initiated the process only on 30 December 2020.

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