NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - The coronavirus variant first identified in India is highly infectious and can be caught by people who have already had the disease or been only partially vaccinated, a panel of Indian government scientists said in a report published on Friday (June 4).
Dubbed the "delta variant" by the World Health Organisation, it is estimated to be 50 per cent more transmissible than the coronavirus variant first found in Britain, researchers at Indian Sars-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium and the National Centre for Disease Control said.
They warned that "prior infections... and partial vaccination are insufficient impediments to its spread, as seen in Delhi, and strong public health response will be needed globally for its containment."
The variant has spread to over 50 countries, including England, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that its rapid spread could affect the reopening of the economy.
India's new cases have steadily declined in large cities over the past few weeks, but rural areas remain in the grip of a disastrous second wave of infections.
Experts have warned that the country needs to ramp up the pace of vaccinations to avoid future surges in infections among its population of more than 1.3 billion people.
Under fire for a slow vaccine roll-out, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has been in talks with major foreign vaccine producers to boost supplies even as domestic manufacturers scramble to boost output.
On Thursday, the United States laid out a plan to share 25 million surplus Covid-19 vaccine doses with countries, including India.
Experts and government officials have said vaccinations are key to opening up parts of the country that have been under lockdown for weeks.
Some states such as Delhi and Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat are gradually loosening restrictions.
In Gujarat, the authorities allowed shops and other commercial establishments to remain open for longer hours from Friday, the Gujarat government announced.
"With states showing restraint in reopening, the economic recovery from this virus wave will be more gradual than last year," said Mr Darren Aw, Asia Economist at Capital Economics in Singapore.
"But the slow vaccine roll-out means that rapid reopening would increase the threat of renewed virus outbreaks, potentially with more contagious variants."
India on Friday reported 132,364 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 2,713 - the lowest in over a month.
The tally of infections stood at 28.6 million, the second-highest in the world, and the death toll at 340,702, the Health Ministry said.
Experts believe the actual numbers are far higher, as the official count registers only cases where people have been tested for the virus, and in India, many people have not been tested, especially in the rural areas, where some two-thirds of Indians live.