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GENEVA, May 10 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said on Monday that the variant of the coronavirus first identified in India last year was classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.
Variant B.1.617 is the fourth variant to be designated as being of global concern and requiring increased monitoring and analysis. The others are those first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
“We classify this as a variant of global concern,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, said in a briefing. “There is information available suggesting increased transmissibility.”
India’s coronavirus infections and deaths hit record daily highs on Monday, increasing calls for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to lock down the world’s second most populous country.
The WHO said the predominant lineage of B.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 countries have decided to reduce or restrict movements from India.
Van Kerkhove said more information about the variant and its three sublineages would be 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 sublineages,” she said.
Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said studies were underway in India to examine the variant’s transmissibility, the severity of the disease it causes and the antibody response in vaccinated people.
“What we know now is that vaccines work, diagnostics work, the same treatments that are used for the regular virus work, so there’s really no need to change anything,” Swaminathan said. .
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the WHO Foundation is making a ‘Together for India’ appeal to raise funds to buy oxygen, medicine and protective equipment for health workers.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Emma Farge, Silke Koltowitz; Editing by Alison Williams
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