At least four types of coronavirus variants are circulating around the globe, the World Health Organisation has said in a report. The report, published by India Today, states the variants have been in presence since the first case of the infection was reported in Wuhan, China way back in November 2019. The WHO has further said it has received several reports of unusual public health events that are possibly due to the variants of SARS-CoV-2.
The WHO said a variant of SARS-CoV-2 with a D614G substitution in the gene encoding the spike protein emerged in late January or early February 2020. Over a period of several months, the D614G mutation replaced the initial SARS-CoV-2 strain that was identified in China.
By June 2020, the WHO said, the mutation became a more dominant form of the coronavirus circulating globally.
Meanwhile, scientists have said standard defense mechanisms such as masks, sanitisation and physical distancing will work to contain the coronavirus strain detected in six people who came from the UK. They have also assured the mutant is not clinically more severe and there is no need to worry.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said preliminary modelling results communicated by the UK on December 19 suggest the variant is 70 per cent more transmissible than previously circulating variants.
However, it also said there is no indication of increased infection severity observed related to the variant with multiple mutations in the spike protein.
The spike protein comes in contact with human cells to enter the body and infect.
Virologist Upasana Ray agreed with the assessment that there is no cause for alarm because there is nothing so far to back concerns that the variant is more deadly.
The senior scientist at CSIR-IICB, Kolkata, went a step further and said, "It has been said the transmission rate is more.
However, for that also there is no laboratory-based evidence.
Though the new variant is more transmissible, it has not shown to cause more severe infection compared to other mutants, agreed Divya Tej Sowpati, a scientist at CSIR-CCMB.
“Please note that though more transmissible, this strain is not shown to be clinically more severe. Also, the same defenses work to contain the UK strain too - masks, sanitization, and social distancing,” Sowpati tweeted on Tuesday.
Immunologist Satyajit Rath said the variant is likely to be a cause for concern in terms of policy responses to COVID-19, but not in terms of individual risk of serious illness.
“However, the basis for this concern remains somewhat circumstantial at this point, since it is based on the correlation between the increasing prominence of this variant with growing case numbers in southern England over the past few weeks.
“More direct evidence, if any, is still awaited,” Rath from New Delhi’s National Institute of Immunology (NII) said.