The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday that a variant of Covid-19 behind the acceleration of India’s explosive outbreak has been found in 44 countries all over the world.
The UN health agency said the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19, first found in India in October, had been detected in more than 4,500 samples uploaded to an open-access database “from 44 countries in all six WHO regions”.
“And WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries,” it said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic.
Outside of India, it said that Britain had reported the largest number of Covid cases caused by the variant.
The WHO explained that B.1.617 was added to the list because it appears to be transmitting more easily than the original virus, pointing to the “rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries”.
The WHO also pointed to “preliminary evidence” that the variant was more resistant to treatment with the monoclonal antibody Bamlanivimab, and also highlighted early lab studies indicating “limited reduction in neutralisation by antibodies”.
It stressed, though, that “real-world impacts” on the effectiveness of vaccines against the variant for instance “may be limited”.
The WHO said the spread of B.1.617, alongside other more transmittable variants, appeared to be one of several factors fuelling India’s dramatic surge in new cases and deaths.
India — a country of 1.3 billion people — is the world’s second-most infected after the United States with nearly 23 million Covid-19 cases, and is currently recording more than 300,000 new cases and close to 4,000 deaths each day. The new surge in cases has ravaged major cities, including the capital New Delhi and financial hub Mumbai, pushing hospitals to breaking point and leading to severe shortages in oxygen and beds.