India detects new ‘double mutant’ Covid variant

Evidence of a new ‘double mutant’ Covid variant has been found in 200 cases in Maharashtra (Picture: AP/EPA/Rex/Getty)

A new ‘double mutant variant’ of coronavirus has been detected in India, the country’s health ministry has said.

Some 206 test samples in the hard hit western state of Maharashtra – home to Mumbai – were found to contain evidence of the new strain.

Genome sequencing and analysis found the samples ‘do not match previously catalogued variants of concern (VOC)’, the ministry said in a statement.

Epidemiologists said the term ‘double mutant’ refers to an entirely new variant that has the characteristics of two already identified variants.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in New Delhi, said more information was needed before it could be established how the new strain differs from other forms of the disease.

‘Is there a reason to be worried about this particular variant? Not as yet, because we have no evidence that these variants are more transmissible or more lethal than what we already have,’ he said.

India is struggling under a potential second wave of the virus and yesterday saw the highest single-day tally of new infections and deaths this year.

The ministry said it was not yet clear if the new variant was causing an upsurge in Maharashtra and other states.

Passengers are tested for Covid at New Delhi Railway Station, where nine cases of the double mutant variant have been detected (Picture: REX)

‘Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States,’ the statement said.

The new variant was also detected in nine samples in the capital New Delhi.

India is battling to vaccinate its huge 1.3 billion population before new variants spread across the country.

Its thought the government has put a temporary hold on all major exports of the AstraZeneca coronavirus jab made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine-maker, to meet domestic demand.

A candle vigil for the people who have lost their lives during the pandemic is held in Bangalore amid a spike in cases across the country (Picture: EPA)

This is affecting the vaccine programme in the UK as it means five million fewer doses are arriving next month.

India has so far recorded more than 11.7 million Covid-19 cases – the third-most infected nation behind the United States and Brazil – and over 160,000 deaths, one of the lowest mortality rates among the worst-hit countries.

Several states announced a ban on large gatherings ahead of the Hindu festival of Holi this weekend.

The federal government also announced it was expanding its nationwide inoculation campaign to include everyone above the age of 45 years from April.

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