/The coronavirus variant first found in India is a global health threat, the World Health Organization says

The coronavirus variant first found in India is a global health threat, the World Health Organization says

  • The World Health Organization said a coronavirus variant discovered in India was a health threat.
  • The B.1.617 variant has devastated India’s healthcare system, leading to oxygen shortages.
  • Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO expert, said researchers would need to further investigate the strain.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A top official at the World Health Organization said Monday the organization will classify a coronavirus variant first found in India as a global health concern. 

Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for COVID-19 at the WHO, said the B.1.617 variant that has devastated India’s healthcare system was a global threat, adding the agency planned to release more information Tuesday in its Situation Report.

“We are classifying this as a variance of concern at the global level,” she said Monday. “Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sub-lineages, so we need more sequencing targeted sequencing to be done.”

The WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan told AFP on Saturday that the B.1.617 variant is concerning as it contains mutations that increase the virus’ transmission.

She also noted that the mutations could cause variants to be resistant to the current swath of available vaccines.

“Variants which accumulate a lot of mutations may ultimately become resistant to the current vaccines that we have,” Swaminathan said. 

Despite the concerns about the effects of the mutations, researchers noted that the current vaccines will still offer some protection against the virus and its most severe symptoms.

India’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have spiked in the last month, filling hospitals to capacity and leading to an oxygen shortage in several of the country’s medical facilities. According to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, the country is currently administering 1.9 million vaccine doses a day, but only 2.6% of the population is fully vaccinated.

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