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WHO classifies triple-mutant Covid variant from India as global health risk

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organised by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

FABRICE COFFRINI | AFP | Getty Images

A World Health Organization official said Monday it is reclassifying the highly contagious triple-mutant Covid variant spreading in India as a “variant of concern” at the global level.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said the agency will provide more details in its Situation Report on Tuesday but added the variant, known as B.1.617, has been found in preliminary studies to spread easier than the original virus and that there is some evidence it may able to evade vaccines.

“And as such we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level,” she said during a press conference. “Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sub lineages, so we need more sequencing targeted sequencing to be done.”

The WHO said last week it was closely following at least 10 coronavirus variants across the world, including the B.1.617. The variant was previously labeled a “variant of interest” as more studies were needed to completely understand its significance, Van Kerkhove said.

“What it means for anybody at home is any of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating can infect you and spread and everything in that sense is of concern,” she said Monday. “So, all of us at home, no matter where we live, no matter what virus is circulating, we need to make sure that we take all of the measures at hand to prevent ourselves from getting sick.”

The variant is believed by some to be behind the latest wave of infections in India.

The country is averaging about 3,879 Covid deaths per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, though media reports indicate the official figure is being understated. It has reported an average of about 391,000 new cases per day over the past seven days — up about 4% from a week ago, Johns Hopkins data shows.

The variant has since spread to other countries, including the United States.

This is a developing study. Please check back for updates.

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