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Is the third Covid wave knocking on our door?

Monday, 25 October 2021 | PNS | New Delhi

Scientists find infectious mutant AY.4.2 cases in India

Is the third wave of Covid-19 all set to knock on India’s door? While there have been divergent views whether the third wave if it comes, will be virulent or not, scientists of the INSACOG network monitoring variations in SARS-CoV-2 have found prevalent in India “in very low numbers,” a new mutated form (AY.4.2) of the coronavirus. The AY.4.2 has caused panic in Europe as it is presumably more contagious than the Delta variant.

AY.4.2, which is one of the 45 sub-lineages of Delta and is dubbed by many as Delta plus, is likely to be named ‘Nu’.  While research regarding the new mutant is still in the initial phase, studies so far show that this mutant is far more transmissible than the Delta variant. The Government has already been warning the people to not lower their guard during the ongoing festival season. West Bengal which just celebrated Durga Puja has reported a surge in Covid cases.

Though the health system is already geared up to meet the emergency and hopes to perform better in the third wave when compared to the second and first wave, the mutation is suspected to be the cause for the exponential rise in Covid-19 cases in the UK, Russia (a lockdown will start in Moscow next week) and Israel last week. The UK has recorded about 50,000 new Covid infections, marking another three-month high. Hospitalisations and deaths are also on the rise.

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 a higher risk of illness and/or death.

On October 21, the US Centers for Diseases Control said it has less than ten 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.

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 per cent.” IGIB is one of the main laboratories involved in the INSACOG genomic surveillance exercise.

According to reports, Dr Agrawal said further details and the exact number of AY.4.2 cases 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 extended 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 ‘Pandemic not over’

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 a lower number of hospitalisations, disease severity and deaths.

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