By Rozanne Nthambi.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday classified the Coronavirus variant first found in India, as a global “variant of concern”. The organization said studies of the variant known as B.1.617, show that it may be more transmissible than others.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for Covid-19 in the WHO said that the variant may also be able to evade some of the protections provided by vaccines. The shots, however, are still considered effective.
“And as such, we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level,” said Maria in a press conference. “Even though there is increased transmissibly demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this variant in this lineage, in all of the sub lineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done.”
According to WHO, a variant can be labeled as “of concern” if it has been shown to be more contagious, more deadly or more resistant to current vaccines and treatments.
The group however issued a clarification to their earlier remarks to state that Covid-19 vaccines “remain effective at preventing disease and death in people infected with this variant.”
India is in a critical place as the country is recording hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, with more than 366,000 cases reported on Monday alone. Moreover, the country is averaging about 3,879 Covid deaths per day, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.
WHO says the variant has already spread to more than 30 countries including the US, UK, France and Japan.
The surge in India rose rapidly last month, overwhelming hospitals of the harders hit cities in the country.
“This is unlike the first wave. And so I think what we’re seeing is more transmissible,” said Soumya Swaminsthan, Chief Scientist at WHO.
The Wall Street Journal released reports saying that only 2% of India’s population have been vaccinated, out of a population of 1.4 billion people, making the country largely vulnerable.
The WHO however does not recomment border closures, saying countries should take a nuanced assessment before imposing restrictions and disruptions to global travel.