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'GLOBAL CONCERN': Highly-infectious Covid variant prompts WHO warning

A Covid variant that is believed to be fuelling India's pandemic crisis and one that continues to spread globally has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a variant of global concern.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said there was evidence now to suggest the strain, which has pushed India's daily Covid-19 infections beyond 400,000 in recent days, is more infectious than others.

"There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility," she told a briefing on Monday (local time).

"We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level."

Health workers and volunteers in personal protective suits wait to receive patients outside a COVID-19 hospital that was set up at a Sikh Gurdwara in New Delhi, India, Monday, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ishant Chauhan)
India's healthcare system is close to breaking point. Source: AP (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The B.1.617 variant is the fourth variant to be designated as being of global concern and requiring heightened tracking and analysis. The others are those first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

Whole world remains at risk, WHO warns

India's alarming crisis has spilled over its northern border into Nepal, a nation where cases are now soaring.

The strain has also been detected in several countries overseas including the US and UK.

Prominent epidemiologist and health economist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding shared a series of graphs indicating the strain was surging across multiple regions of the UK "extremely fast".

The UK has begun to drastically roll back restrictions on the back of a successful vaccine rollout and while the WHO clarified its remarks to say existing vaccines "should prevent disease and death in people infected with this variant", Dr Van Kerkhove reminded those who are inoculated can still transmit the virus.

“What it means for anybody at home is any of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating can infect you and spread and everything in that sense is of concern,” she said.

“So, all of us at home, no matter where we live, no matter what virus is circulating, we need to make sure that we take all of the measures at hand to prevent ourselves from getting sick.”

Technical Lead for the World Health Organization (WHO) Maria Van Kerkhove attends a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Technical Lead for the World Health Organization (WHO) Maria Van Kerkhove has warned the pandemic continues to pose a threat to every single country. Source: Reuters (Denis Balibouse / reuters)

Dr Van Kerkhove said much more information was needed about the variant, while Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said further studies were under way in India to examine the variant's transmissibility, the severity of disease it causes and the response of antibodies in people who have been vaccinated.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the WHO Foundation was launching a “Together for India” appeal to raise funds to purchase oxygen, medicines and protective equipment for health workers.

Monday's 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by India's health ministry were off a little from recent peaks, taking India's tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths.

With Reuters

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