Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

How worried should we be about India’s triple-mutant Covid variant?

By Rudolph Nkgadima Time of article published Apr 22, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - A new "triple-mutant'' (B.1.618) variant, which has been fuelling Covid-19 infections in India, has now spread to several other countries.

In a recent press release, India’s health ministry said the variant has spread to the US, Germany, UK, Australia, and Germany.

“It also has been found in Belgium, Ireland, Namibia, and New Zealand. Higher transmissibility of this variant is not established as yet,” read the statement.

India now accounts for one in three new Covid-19 cases in the world. New cases there rose above 100 000 in early April, surpassing the previous peak in September last year. By April 19, in just two weeks, new cases had surged to more than 273 000 a day.

According to scientists, a “triple mutation” means a combination of three different Covid-19 strains to form a new variant, which is believed to be behind the country’s devastating second wave.

While public health experts and scientists have expressed concern about this particular variant, University of KwaZulu- Natal’s (UKZN) Infectious Diseases Specialist, Dr Richard Lessells, said it was probably unlikely that the variant would be a bigger problem than the 501 YV2 variant found locally because there are few mutations at the key sites where these antibodies bind.

“We are still unclear as to what extent the new variant was driving the second wave of infections. Based on what we understand of this variant and where the mutations are, it might be expected that it might have some effect on the binding of the antibodies that are naturally produced after an infection by the body or produced by the vaccine,” Lessells told Newzroom Afrika.

Despite there being no scientific research yet on how transmissible the triple-mutated variant is, scientists have found that the variant carries the E484K mutation, a characteristic of the South Africa and Brazilian variants, which is known to be an “immune escape” variant.

Meanwhile, several countries including the US, Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, Pakistan and New Zealand have already released fresh travel advisories for their citizens, asking them to avoid travelling to/from India.

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