Recent reports said a new 'double mutant' variant of COVID-19 was identified from India's samples.
The BBC News reported that officials are now checking the variant, where the dual mutation comes together in the same virus, may be more contagious or less affected by the COVID-19 vaccines.
Approximately over 10,700 samples from 18 states in India also showed up around 771 cases of known variants, specifically 736 of the United Kingdom or the UK, 34 of the South African, and one Brazilian strain.
According to the officials, the variants are not associated with a spike in cases in India. In connection to this, India reported around 47,262 cases and 275 deaths middle of this week and the sharpest daily numbers in 2021.
A group of 10 national laboratories under the health ministry of India, also called the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics or INSACOG, carried out genomic sequencing on the latest samples.
Genomic sequencing is a testing process to map the whole genetic code of an organism. In this particular case, the organism is the virus.
The virus's genetic code is working like its instruction manual. Mutations in viruses are common, although most of them are irrelevant and do not cause any change in their ability to spread or cause severe infection.
However, some mutations, like the ones in the UK or South Africa variant lineages, can make COVID-19 more contagious and, in certain circumstances, even more data.
Shahid Jameel, a virologist, explained that a double mutation in key locations of the spike protein of the virus might increase the risks and enable the virus to escape the immune system.
Essentially, the spike protein is the part of the virus that it utilizes to enter human cells. According to the government, an assessment of the samples collected from India's western Maharashtra state showed a rise in the fraction of samples with what they identified as the E484Q and L452R mutations, compared with December 2020.
The health ministry said such double mutations confer immune escape and increased inefficiency. Jameel added, there may be a separate lineage that's developing in India with the said two mutations coming together.
Double Mutant Virus, a Scary Phrase
The same news report also specified that a 'double mutant virus' is a scary phase. Having it broken down, the words suggest that Indian researchers have found a pair of significant changes or mutations in different areas of the virus.
Such a discovery, the report said, is not very surprising. Viruses are mutating, although the questions needed to be answered include: does this double mutation presence change the manner virus is behaving?
Another question is, if this variant will be more contagious now, or if it will lead to more severe illness, and essentially, will the existing vaccines still work well against it?
Seemingly, scientists will be busy looking for answers to the said questions. According to officials, since the proportion of COVID-19 tests that have returned with this double mutation is presently low, there is, to date, nothing to propose that this is behind the present surge in cases.
What's clear, though, is that this double mutation, as different as it's sounding, needs the same public health response.
More tests, improved contact-tracing, and immediate isolation of confirmed COVID-19 cases, not to mention wearing masks and physical distancing, will help mitigate the spread of the virus.
A similar report is shown on SABC News's YouTube video below: