Several European countries have reported cases of coronavirus strain and some have restricted travel to India as fears grow.
A so-called “double mutant” version of the new coronavirus first detected in India has now reached several European countries.
The health authorities of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Romania, Switzerland and Belgium have detected cases of the so-called Indian variant, formally known as B.1.617.
The cases have raised alarm over a possible rapid spread of infections caused by the strain, which brings together two key mutations on the tip side of the virus previously detected in other dominant coronavirus variants.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is the Indian variant?
B.1.617 contains two notable mutations: formally known as E484Q and L452R. This has led to it sometimes being called the “double mutant” strain, although this is a somewhat bad name, as it actually carries more than a dozen mutations altogether.
Preliminary evidence suggests that mutations make B.1.617 more transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than other strains, but scientists are still trying to determine to what extent this is the case.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated it as a “variant of interest,” suggesting that it may be more infectious than other versions of the virus, cause more serious illness, or elude vaccine immunity to a greater extent.
But other strains with known risks, such as those first detected in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, have been classified as “variants of concern”, a higher level of threat.
Where has it been detected?
B.1.617 has been recorded in at least 17 countries around the world since it was first detected in India, which is currently battling a devastating wave of COVID-19 infections.
In Europe, the United Kingdom has been the most affected country, with health authorities recording so far 193 cases of the variant.
Sporadic cases have also been detected in France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal and Spain. On Thursday, Romania denounced its first case.
However, the variant does not yet appear to have made significant incursions into any of the affected countries or the entire region.
Should we worry?
If B.1.617 were imposed in Europe, it could lead to an increase in COVID-19 infections in the region, which would undermine continued efforts to deploy vaccinations and end the pandemic.
In response to the spread of the variant, several European governments, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Spain, have issued travel bans or restrictions on the arrival of India.
The moves come as several European nations struggle with third waves, with efforts to contain COVID-19 in some areas of the continent hampered by the slow pace of mass vaccination.