British officials may declare Covid-19 strain in India 'variant of concern'

The B16172 variant appears to have been spreading more quickly in the United Kingdom than other variants, the BBC said. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - British officials could declare one of the new coronavirus strains first found in India a "variant of concern", the BBC and Guardian reported on Friday (May 7), due to evidence that it spreads more quickly than the original version of the virus.

Scientists and doctors have recommended that one version of the variant first found in India, known as B16172, is designated a "variant of concern", as it appears to have been spreading more quickly in the United Kingdom than other variants, the BBC said.

The original variant in India, B1617, was first detected in October, but Public Health England (PHE) has categorised three different subtypes, all with slightly different mutations.

Mr Jeff Barrett, director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute's Covid-19 Genomics Initiative, said that high numbers of cases of B16172 in Britain and around the world were "consistent with this one being more transmissible than older versions of the virus from last year".

"(It's) possibly as transmissible as the B117 Kent variant that is very widespread in the UK," Mr Barrett said on BBC radio, referring to the strain found in south-east England which fuelled Britain's second Covid-19 wave.

Other variants of concern include the one first identified in Kent, south-east England, as well as variants in South Africa and Brazil, and Mr Barrett said there had been reassuring evidence from real-world studies on the effectiveness of vaccines on those.

"That paints a relatively positive picture that the vaccines are going to continue to have efficacy," he said.

"So obviously for new variants like this one, we need to do additional experiments and really get the solid proof one way or the other about that".

PHE said that weekly variant data, which had been due on Thursday, was delayed due to a "processing issue", though The Guardian said that the update was delayed due to local elections.

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