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In order to minimise the impact of B.1.617 and keep an eye on future variants that are bound to be discovered, there is urgent need to ramp up genome sequencing to 5 percent of all tests on a monthly basis and ensure that the data on variants of concern from genomic surveillance is shared across the districts.

Scientists are working overtime to understand several coronavirus variants now circulating in this country—in particular B.1.617—which has been incorrectly termed as an Indian variant.

A ferocious second wave of COVID-19 has devastated the nation, catching the authorities unawares. The country recorded nearly 400,000 new infections on May 9, taking the total number of infections to more than 22 million.

“While it is true that this strain was discovered in India, it would be incorrect to call it an Indian strain. The scientific name for it is B.1.617 and it should be referred to as that,” says Shahid Jameel, virologist at Ashoka University in Sonipat, who chairs the scientific advisory group of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortia (INSACOG).

“In India, the virus was mutating around the new year to become more infectious, more transmissible, and better able to evade pre-existing immunity. Sequencing data now tells us that two variants that fuelled the second wave are B.1.617, first found in India in December, which spread through mass events; and B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain that arrived in India with international travellers starting in January. The B.1.617 variant has now become the most widespread in India,” he told Moneycontrol.

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