The WHO said that the coronavirus variant first identified in India last year was being classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily. 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. “We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said.
The variant has already spread to other countries. Van Kerkhove said more information about the variant would be made available on Tuesday. “Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant and this lineage and all of the sub-lineages,” she said.
Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said 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.