Current Affairs

WHO classifies India variant as being of global concern

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  • Categories
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    14th May, 2021
  • Context

    Amid a worsening coronavirus catastrophe in India, the World Health Organziation has classified the coronavirus variant (B.1.617 variant) first identified in India last year, as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.

  • Background

    • Increasing Indian coronavirus infections and deaths have increased calls for the government to lock down the world’s second-most populous country.
    • The WHO has said the predominant lineage of 1.617 was first identified in India in December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020.
    • The variant has already spread to other countries, and many nations have moved to cut or restrict movements from India.
  • Analysis

    What is B.1.617?

    • The B.1.617 variant of the virus has two mutations referred to as:
      • E484Q
      • L452R
    • Both are separately found in many other coronavirus variants, but they have been reported together for the first time in India.
    • The L452R mutation has been found in some other VOIs such as B.1.427/ B.1.429, which are believed to be more transmissible and may be able to override neutralising antibodies.
    • The WHO has said that laboratory studies suggest that samples from individuals who had natural infection may have reduced neutralisation against variants which have the E484Q mutation.


    • A mutation is elevated from a "variant of interest" to a "variant of concern" (VOC) when it shows evidence of fulfilling at least one of several criteria, including easy transmission, more severe illness, reduced neutralisation by antibodies or reduced effectiveness of treatment and vaccines.
  • In which countries B.1.617 have reached?

    • 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.
  • How does a variant classified as a ‘variant of concern’?

    • A variant of interest (VOI) becomes a variant of concern (VOC) if, through a comparative assessment, it has been demonstrated to be associated with increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19epidemiology, increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation or a decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.
    • Alternatively, a variant may be classified as a VOC by the WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group.

    US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC defines a VOI as, “A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.” 9

  • How do variants of a virus emerge?

    • Variants of a virus have one or more mutations that differentiate it from the other variants that are in circulation.
    • While most mutations are deleterious for the virus, some make it easier for the virus to survive.
    • Essentially, the goal of the virus is to reach a stage where it can cohabitate with humans because it needs a host to survive.
    • This means, any virus is likely to become less severe as it keeps evolving, but in this process it can attain some mutations that may be able to escape the body’s immune response or become more transmissible.
  • Why SARS-CoV-2 virus is evolving so fast?

    • High level of circulation: The SARS-CoV-2 virus is evolving fast because of the scale at which it has infected people around the world. High levels of circulation mean it is easier for the virus to change as it is able to replicate faster.
  • Conclusion

    Data continues to be collected and analysed on new variants of the COVID-19 virus. WHO is working with researchers, health officials and scientists to understand how these variants affect the virus’s behaviour, including their impact on the effectiveness of vaccines, if any.