Indian Covid variant found in 44 countries, continues to spread, says WHO

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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. The Indian variant will now join the Brazilian, British and South African mutations also classified as being "of concern" by the global health authority.

Although the official figures are already staggering - more than 350,000 new infections daily this month and almost 250,000 total deaths - some experts say that the numbers are a vast undercount and estimate that India is on pace to suffer more than one million deaths by August. Both figures are assumed to be undercounts.

The variants are seen as more unsafe than the original version of the virus because they are either being more transmissible, deadly or able to get past some vaccine protections.

"Based on current data, the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective at preventing disease and death in people infected with this variant", it said in a statement.

Variants of concern are those considered more risky than the original form of the virus first seen in China in late 2019. The Indian virus strains now remain under this classification. "However, the relative contribution in the rapid increase of this country remains unclear".

By the end of April, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 accounted for 21 and seven percent respectively of all sequenced samples from India, it said.

Covid variants are seen as more risky than the original version of the virus because they are either more transmissible, deadly or able to get past some vaccine protections.

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There have been 335 cases of B.1.617 found in the U.S.to date.

But experts caution that it's not yet clear just how much of a factor B.1.617 has played in the catastrophic rise in cases in India. It's still rare in the U.S, but rising.

The WHO's technical lead on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove said there was information available to suggest "increased transmissibility" of the variant.

Kerkhove said the agency needs much more information around the variant and its three sublineages, such as neutralization and any increased severity, through targeted sequencing.

"What we know now is that the vaccines work, the diagnostics work, the same treatments that are used for the regular virus works, so there is really no need to change any of those", said Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist.

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

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