Published: 27th March 2021
What the FAQ: What is the 'double mutant' COVID-19 variant found in India, should we be worried?
Here's everything about the new double mutant COVID-19 variant found in India, whether it's the reason for the second wave and more
India has reported a new variant of the Coronavirus as it has been struggling with the highest single-day tally of new infections and deaths this year in a potential second wave of the virus. The variant, described by officials as a “double mutant”, has been found in more than 200 samples in the most drastically-hit state of Maharashtra. However, health officials stated that the new variant had not been detected in large enough numbers to link it to the surge in cases in Maharashtra and other states including Kerala and Punjab.
Here's all you need to know about the new variant and whether we should be worried.
What is a double mutant variant of COVID-19?
Like all other viruses, the Coronavirus keeps changing in small ways as it passes from one person to another. The vast majority of these mutations are inconsequential and don't alter the way the virus behaves.
However, some mutations trigger changes in the spike protein that the virus uses to latch on to and enter human cells. These variants could potentially be more infectious, cause more severe infections or evade vaccines. Double mutations are important to follow as these provide the virus an escape from the immune response and at the same time increases infectivity. The government has said so far these mutations have been found in about 15-20 per cent of samples and haven't matched with the earlier mutant strains.
How worried should we be about the double mutant?
The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), the body conducting the genome sequencing, says so far the current number of these variant cases are not sufficient to provide evidence that there is a direct linkage of these double mutant strains to the COVID surge in the country. Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of the National Centre for Disease Control told the media, "Cities that had a large pool of susceptible population is the one seeing a rise in cases when exposed to the virus. The wards that were least affected in the last surge is seeing a rise in cases in Nagpur and hence, cannot be directly linked to the double mutant strains." Further investigation is however warranted and INSACOG, the group of 10 national laboratories that was established by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is expanding genomic sequencing of samples.
Is the double mutant reason behind India's COVID-19 second wave?
India reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday — the sharpest daily rise in 2021. Dr Rakesh Mishra, Director of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), told media that the double-variant had been found in 20 per cent of the cases in Maharashtra, which has seen a huge spike in reported infections. "One suspicion is that this variant is the cause of India's second wave of infections. I would say no, 80% of the samples we have sequenced don't have this combination of mutants. This mutant has been linked to only 230 cases in Maharashtra of the several thousand samples sequenced," he added. However, experts have suggested that callous human behaviour is largely responsible for the second wave.