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FAQ: What Are the New COVID Variants in India?

Two new COVID variants ‘N440K’ and ‘E484K’ found in Maharashtra, Kerala and Telangana.

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Coronavirus variants: As new COVID mutations and variants are reported from Japan, Brazil, UK and South Africa, what makes them different?
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5 states in India - Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh - are experiencing a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases, with experts wondering if a new variant could be behind the rise.

Fresh Covid-19 cases are showing an upward trend over the past week, with the country reporting 13,742 cases in the last 24 hours taking the overall tally to 1,10,30,176 on Wednesday, 24 February, Union Health Ministry said.

The rise in new cases is almost 3,158 more than Tuesdays, but India has been recording less than 15,000 new infections daily with the toll not crossing the 200-mark over the last one month, reported IANS.

Dr Jacob John, virologist and former professor at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, explained, “The first question any epidemiologist will ask is if these are new infections - meaning in people who have never gotten infected with COVID - or reinfections in people who already had the virus.”

Now as virological studies are underway to determine if variants are behind the rise, the Central government on Tuesday, 23 February, claimed that two new variants - N440K and E484K - were found in three states - Maharashtra, Kerala, and Telangana.

“The genome sequencing of positive patients have confirmed two variants which are detected with a larger number mutations than the one dominating the country. They are found circulating in Maharashtra, Kerala and Telangana.”
VK Paul, Member (health), NITI Aayog, and head of the National Task Force on Covid-19 told IANS

They added that a high number of mutations have been detected as well, however, so far no link has been established between these and the resurgence of cases in Kerala and Maharashtra.

Should We Worry?

In an earlier interview with FIT, Dr John explained that a new variant would mean we would have to be more cautious. However, we would need tests to determine the transmissibility and virulence (strength) of the new mutation before jumping to conclusions. Besides, we are still waiting on tests from NIV, Pune and ICMR to determine the link between the mutations and rising cases.

On Tuesday, 23 February, officials told IANS that the genetic diagnostic laboratories in India have detected over 24,000 mutations in the strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the last one year.

Maharashtra government's Technical Advisor on COVID-19, Dr Shubhash Salunkhe explains why this number is nothing to worry about.

“Every virus, particularly pandemic prone viruses have their mutations - this is nothing unusual. Even our Indian indigenous virus has many mutations - virologists say we’ve had up to 3-4000 mutations and this will go on. Some will increase the transmissibility, some the virulence.”
Dr Shubhash Salunkhe

Dr Salunkhe added that he was seeing increasing transmissibility but the death rate was not affected significantly. Still, these mutations suggest we cannot keep our guard down and must mask up, maintain distance and hand hygiene.

Other Variants in India

VK Paul said that the number of people infected with the South African variant of coronavirus has risen to six this week, from the four the Union Ministry reported last week.

Last week, The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that at least 192 cases of COVID-19 linked to the new variants were detected in the last two months. These are

  • four cases from the variant in South Africa
  • one case from the Brazil variant
  • 187 from the UK variant

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said that there were 104 more deaths taking the overall toll to 1,56,567. Last week, officials said that the average daily new infections for the last 15 days were oscillating between 9,000 to 12,000 while the deaths were between 78 to 120.

At least 84 per cent of the new cases are from six states -- Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Karnataka and Gujarat.

Six states account for 84.62 per cent of the new deaths including Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.

(With inputs from IANS)

(Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

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