How dangerous is India’s ‘double mutant’ COVID-19 variant?

It is beginning to feel as though not a week can go by without scientists identifying a new variant of the coronavirus. Each time a new strain is announced, I feel myself becoming increasingly numb to the shock factor that the headline is supposed to trigger.

I have written extensively about variants originating in the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and New York; this week, it is the turn of India.

In late March, India’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, announced that a new variant – dubbed a “double mutant” – had been identified in samples of saliva taken from people in Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab. This comes on the back of a month that has seen a surge in cases of COVID-19 across India, with many states re-imposing curfews, restrictions and lockdown measures.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says this new “double mutant” variant has not been found in sufficient numbers to account for the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country. That, rather, is thought to be due to large public gatherings such as weddings, the opening of cinema halls and gyms, as well as large political rallies in West Bengal where elections are due to be held soon.

Nevertheless, it is a “variant of concern” (VOC) and is being closely monitored. The genome sequencing carried out by a consortium of 10 labs in India, called the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), has identified two important mutations in the new variant, giving it the unfortunate title of “double mutant”.

First, the E484Q mutation, which is similar to the E484K mutation identified on the Brazilian and South African variants, can change parts of the coronavirus spike protein. The spike protein forms part of the coronavirus outer layer and is what the virus uses to make contact with human cells, bind to them, then enter and infect them.

In late March, India’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a division of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, announced that a new variant – dubbed a “double mutant” – had been identified in samples of saliva taken from people in Maharashtra, Delhi and Punjab. This comes on the back of a month that has seen a surge in cases of COVID-19 across India, with many states re-imposing curfews, restrictions and lockdown measures.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says this new “double mutant” variant has not been found in sufficient numbers to account for the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country. That, rather, is thought to be due to large public gatherings such as weddings, the opening of cinema halls and gyms, as well as large political rallies in West Bengal where elections are due to be held soon.

Nevertheless, it is a “variant of concern” (VOC) and is being closely monitored. The genome sequencing carried out by a consortium of 10 labs in India, called the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), has identified two important mutations in the new variant, giving it the unfortunate title of “double mutant”.

First, the E484Q mutation, which is similar to the E484K mutation identified on the Brazilian and South African variants, can change parts of the coronavirus spike protein. The spike protein forms part of the coronavirus outer layer and is what the virus uses to make contact with human cells, bind to them, then enter and infect them.

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