World Health Organization classifies India variant as being of global concern

Two women self-administer a Covid-19 test at a mobile novel coronavirus testing centre on Clapham Common in south London

Two women self-administer a Covid-19 test at a mobile novel coronavirus testing centre on Clapham Common in south London

The World Health Organization says the coronavirus variant first identified in India has been detected in 49 countries and territories, as of Tuesday.

The list includes the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Japan.

These variants are seen as more risky than the original version of the virus, being either more transmissible, deadlier or not as susceptible to vaccines.

It also cited preliminary research suggesting that the variant could compromise the effects of medications and neutralizing antibodies.

The WHO says the United Kingdom variant has been found in 149 countries and territories, the South African variant in 102 and the Brazilian variant in 60.

"There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility of the B.1.617", Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's lead on Covid-19, told reporters.

The WHO insisted though that it was far too early to interpret this to mean that the variant might have more resistance to vaccine protections.

It comes as India is pummeled by its deadliest wave of COVID-19, with almost 4,000 people dying a day, and hundreds of thousands of people testing positive every 24 hours.

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This information could help scientists understand the degree to which the variant is circulating in India and other countries. But the closure was extended for another two weeks on Saturday, hours after the Indian variant was detected in Bangladesh.

The UN health agency said the B1617 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".

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.

It was therefore added to the list containing three other variants of Covid-19 - those first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.

They are seen as more risky than the original version of the virus by either being more transmissible, deadly or able to get past some vaccine protections.

The WHO's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan agreed, urging a "balanced approach".

'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, ' Swaminathan said.

Initially, the W.H.O. classified B.1.617 as a "variant of interest," because it had certain mutations that have been linked to higher transmission and the potential to evade vaccines.

Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, said: "The way to limit the spread of all variants is the same and although we are all enjoying slightly more freedom, the virus is still with us".

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