British officials could declare one of the new coronavirus strains first found in India a “variant of concern,” the BBC said on Friday, as scientists flagged evidence that it spreads more quickly than the original version of the virus. Scientists have recommended that one version of the variant first found in India, known as B.1.617.2, is designated a “variant of concern,” the BBC said, adding more than 500 cases of the variant had been recorded, up from 202 last week.
Public Health England (PHE), which postponed the publication of its weekly data on variants on Thursday, had no immediate comment on the report.
Jeff Barrett, Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute COVID-19 Genomics Initiative, said that high numbers of cases of B.1.617.2 in Britain and around the world were “consistent with this one being more transmissible than older versions of the virus from last year.”(It’s) possibly as transmissible as the B.117 Kent variant that is very widespread in the UK,” Barrett said on BBC radio, referring to the strain found in south-east England which fuelled Britain’s second COVID-19 wave. The original India variant, B.1.617, was first detected in October, but Public Health England (PHE) has categorised three different subtypes, all with slightly different mutations.
Other variants of concern include variants first identified in Kent, south-east England, as well as South Africa and Brazil, and Barrett said that there had been reassuring evidence from real-world studies on the effectiveness of vaccines on those.“That paints a relatively positive picture that the vaccines are going to continue to have efficacy,” he said.“So obviously for new variants like this one, we need to do additional experiments and really get the solid proof one way or the other about that.”The variant is currently classified as a “variant of interest” by the WHO and public health officials in Canada, which recently became the latest country to confirm cases of the variant.
The classification doesn’t technically carry the same type of worry as “variant of concern,” but Canadian officials have said they are closely watching its spread and the trajectory of the virus in India.
By Alistair Smout