New Delhi/London/Berlin Corona variants have been causing a stir for months. Some are more contagious, others diminish the effect of vaccines. A mutant discovered in India may have both properties.
A corona variant known from India is causing a stir. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and other experts are currently cautious about variant B.1.617, but SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach smells danger.
In India, the number of cases has exploded, with around 270,000 new infections registered every day. The variant B.1.617 is currently under observation, for a classification as "worrying" so far "the corresponding evidence is missing", an RKI spokeswoman told dpa-question. "In Germany, a total of eight sequences of line B.1.617 originating from March have been identified.“
The variant carries two mutations at a surface protein known from other lines under surveillance, the RKI further explained. Both would be "associated with reduced neutralisability by antibodies or T cells, the extent of which is not clear." In other words, it is possible that vaccinated and recovered individuals could be less well protected from infection with this variant.
This feature is also feared in the variants discovered in South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1). Both have been classified by the WHO as being of concern - as so-called "Variant of Concern". This also applies to the highly contagious mutant B.1.1.7 discovered in the UK at the end of 2020, which is now also the dominant variant in Germany.
B.1.617, on the other hand, has so far only been under observation by the WHO - as a "Variant of Interest". A variant is considered to be of concern if it is known to spread more easily, cause more severe disease, escape the immune system, alter clinical presentation or reduce the effectiveness of known tools, a WHO spokeswoman explained.
The Indian Ministry of Health had reported the so-called double mutant in late March. When asked how often it has occurred so far, a health ministry official could not say. A recent announcement said it was now found in countries such as Germany, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the United States and Singapore. Higher transmissibility has not been proven, it said. However, some experts in India believe the mutant could be contributing to rapidly rising infection rates in India.
There is not much data for the variant, and it is very rare in Europe, says Richard Neher, head of the Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria research group at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. "You can't derive a reliable trend from the few observations yet, but it should be watched closely." Not much knowledge exists about a large number of variants with notable mutations, he said. "In that respect, I don't think B.1.617 deserves more attention than other variants," Neher shared.
The head of virology at Berlin's Charité hospital, Christian Drosten, also had not seen the Indian variant as a cause for alarm in late March.
Because of the Corona situation in India, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled a visit there planned for late April. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that India would be placed on a "red list." Travelers arriving in Britain from the country starting Friday will have to spend the mandatory 10-day quarantine in a hotel at their own expense. There have been 77 such cases detected in the U.K., according to data on Sunday. There is no evidence that the variant is more contagious than those previously known or does not respond to vaccines, a Cabinet member had said.
Eleven cases of the variant have occurred in Denmark since March. These are not individuals, but one or two related groups. A virus researcher at the State Serum Institute told Danish Radio on Monday. He does not expect a high number of unreported cases, since almost all positive samples in Denmark are sequenced.
In contrast, SPD politician Lauterbach recently called B.1.617 worrisome on Twitter. The proportion of the variant in Great Britain is growing faster than all other variants. There are already many vaccinated people there. The development poses a particular threat to Germany, he said, because B.1.1.7 had already "reached us very quickly via the UK".
(Original text: ga/dpa / Translation: Mareike Graepel)