It was reported that the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a statement yesterday night (18 May) to swiftly rebut Indian media reports over comments made by Delhi Chief Minister.
The Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, claimed on his Twitter account yesterday that a new variant of COVID-19 found in Singapore is “very dangerous for children” and called on Modi’s government to immediately suspend air travels with Singapore. He warned that the variant can “come as a third wave” in India.
“A new variant of coronavirus found in Singapore is being said to be very dangerous for children. This can usher in the third wave (of COVID-19) in India,” he said. “I appeal to the Central government to immediately halt air services with Singapore.”
In response to the Delhi Chief Minister’s claims, MOH rebutted, “There is no truth whatsoever in the assertions found within the reports. There is no ‘Singapore variant’.”
“The strain that is prevalent in many of the COVID-19 cases in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated in India. Phylogenetic testing has shown this B.1.617.2 variant to be associated with several clusters in Singapore,” it added.
What is B.1.617.2 variant?
The B.1.617.2 is, in fact, a sub-lineage of B.1.617 which was first detected in India last October. There were very few detection at first till Jan 2021 this year.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) epidemiological update last Tue (11 May), some 49 countries have now reported to have detected the B.1.617 variant in their country. Presently, WHO has designated B.1.617 as a “Variant of Concern” (VOC) based on evidence of phenotypic impacts compared to other circulating virus variants. The B.1.617 has further been classified into 3 sub-lineages:
WHO noted that the sublineages differ by few but potentially relevant mutations in the spike protein as well as prevalence of detection globally. In particular, the B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 sublineages appear to have higher rates of transmission, including observed rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries, said WHO.
Preliminary analyses conducted by WHO suggests that B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 have a substantially higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility compared.
In India, WHO noted that while B.1.1.7 (UK variant) and B.1.617.1 variants have begun to wane in recent weeks, a marked increase in the proportion of viruses sequenced as B.1.617.2 has been observed over the same period.
Outside of India, the UK has reported large increase in number of cases of B.1.617.2 and has designated this sub-lineage as a “national variant of concern”. A large number B.1.617.2 clusters have been identified in UK, including those linked to secondary schools, care homes and religious gatherings, with evidence of community transmission in some of the clusters, the Guardian reported.
“We are monitoring all of these variants extremely closely and have taken the decision to classify this as a variant of concern because the indications are that this VOC-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2) is a more transmissible variant,” said Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at Public Health England (PHE).
PHE has also released details of the number of cases of B.1.617.2 detected up to 5 May. The figures suggest that cases of B.1.617.2 are on the rise, having increased from 202 to 520 over 1 week in UK, with about half the cases linked to travel or contact with people who have travelled.
UK Health Secretary: B.1.617.2 variant more transmissible than UK variant
On Mon (17 May), UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that B.1.617.2 variant seemed more transmissible.
Hancock said the variant had become the dominant strain in parts of the North West of England. A range of measures are being taken to tackle its spread, including accelerating second doses of vaccines for people over 50 and the clinically vulnerable, he added.
He also told the House that early evidence has suggested the the B.1.617.2 variant is more transmissible than the UK variant. He added that it was not yet known how much more transmissible it was. However, UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for emergencies (SAGE) has said there is a “realistic possibility” that this variant could be as much as “50 per cent more transmissible” than the UK strain.
Three experts from SAGE, which provide scientific advice to the UK government, Dr. Stephen Reicher from the University of St Andrews and Dr. Susan Michie and Dr. Christina Pagel from University College London, wrote, “We know that it is spreading fast (roughly doubling each week in the UK and nearly tripling last week from 520 to 1,313 cases), that it is becoming established in a number of areas across the country.”
“Compared to the dominant B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, we know that B.1.617.2 is very likely to be more transmissible and that it might be better able to transmit between people who are fully vaccinated,” they added.
“We don’t yet know how much of the faster transmission is down to characteristics of the variant itself as opposed to the characteristics of those who are infected and … we don’t yet know whether and to what extent the new variant undermines the ability of vaccines to protect us against infection, hospitalisation, and death or to stop us transmitting infection to others.”
Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Guardian newspaper on Mon (17 May) that the B.1.617.2 variant could overtake the UK strain. “There is no evidence that the recent rapid rise in cases of the B.1.617.2 variant shows any signs in slowing,” he said. “This variant will overtake (the UK Kent variant) and become the dominant variant in the U.K. in the next few days, if it hasn’t already done so.”