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‘Most contagious’ Covid mutant from UK found in India too

by Vaishali Sharma

According to experts from the INSACOG network monitoring changes in SARS-CoV-2, a new mutated variant of the coronavirus (AY.4.2) that has created fear in Europe since it is probably more infectious than Delta is present in India “in very low levels.” The exponential surge of Covid-19 instances in the UK, Russia (a lockdown will begin in Moscow next week), and Israel last week is thought to be due to AY.4.2.

However, scientists say the AY.4.2-related findings still carry a high level of uncertainty, and it is still early to say this lineage carries higher risk of illness and/or death.On October 21, the US Centers for Diseases Control said it has less than 10 reported cases of AY.4.2 in its database so far, but the UK health authorities have found 15,120 cases of VUI-21OCT-01—the other name for AY.4.2—since it was first detected in July.

A new mutated form of the Covid-causing coronavirus (AY.4.2) that has caused panic in Europe as it’s presumably more contagious than Delta, is present in India “in very low numbers”, said scientists of the INSACOG network monitoring genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2.

AY.4.2 is suspected to be the cause for the exponential rise in Covid-19 cases in the United Kingdom, Russia (a lockdown will start in Moscow next week) and Israel last week.However, scientists say the AY.4.2-related findings still carry a high level of uncertainty, and it is still early to say that this lineage carries higher risk of severe illness and/or death.

On October 21, the US Centers for Diseases Control said it has less than 10 reported cases of AY.4.2 in its database so far, but the UK health authorities have found 15,120 cases of VUI-21OCT-01—the other name for AY.4.2—since it was first detected in July.

When contacted, Dr Anurag Agrawal, director at CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) in Delhi, said, “AY.4.2 is present in India based on the revised definition, but at very low numbers, less than 0.1%.”IGIB is one of the main laboratories involved in the INSACOG genomic surveillance exercise.

Dr Agrawal said further details and the exact number of AY.4.2 in India would be available soon.AY.4.2 is a descendant of the Delta variant, which has so far been considered the most dangerous form, affecting millions.

Delta has been studied closely using genome sequencing since early this year and its tribe has extends up to AY.39.The lineage AY.4 was considered the fastest growing in many continents, including India, in the last three months until the UK health authorities earlier this week announced the spread of AY.4.2.

The UK health authorities have named AY.4.2 as a “variant under investigation” that “appears to have a modestly increased growth rate compared to Delta”.

The AY.4.2 lineage has mutations of Delta and Delta derivative AY.4 and has spike mutations A222V and Y145H that help the virus enter human cells more easily.The UK, which has the biggest database on AY.4.2 has started comparative analyses of deaths, hospitalization and vaccine effectiveness.

Dr Shashank Joshi, who is a member of the Maharashtra government’s task force on Covid-19, said Delta and its derivatives have posed a challenge to the medical community for months.

“India is still in the Delta mode. As long as the Delta variant is still dominant, it is unlikely that any of derivatives such as AY.4.2 will pose a big threat to India,” said Dr Joshi. Recent studies have shown that the Oxford vaccine, sold as Covidshield in India, is effective against Delta. The third genomic sequencing report of the BMC in Mumbai showed that while breakthrough infections (getting Covid despite vaccination) have been noted, the vaccine has resulted in lower number of hospitalisations, disease severity and deaths.

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