The epidemic is out of control in India where three variants have merged to form a triple mutant that is more contagious than the original virus and resistant to current vaccines. Several countries including France are taking drastic precautions against India. But the Indian variant is already in Europe.
The epidemic is taking its toll in India. In this country of 1.4 billion people, Covid-19 has caused 189,544 deaths according to WHO figures, for 16.6 million confirmed cases. What worries scientists is the exponential progression of contaminations: more than 332,000 new cases recorded on Friday and more than 346,000 on Saturday. Hospitals are overwhelmed. The number of deaths is exploding. More than 700 doctors, nurses and nursing staff in Patna hospitals have been infected by the new wave of Covid-19 and hospitals are no longer able to receive new patients. Several hospitals have run out of oxygen cylinders, putting patients’ lives at risk.
The Bengal strain
Besides Patna, the districts of Gaya, Saran, Begusarai, Aurangabad, Bhagalpur, West Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Purnia and Vaishali are the most affected by the outbreak of the disease. How to explain this outbreak in a country where the virus seemed to be on the decline? It is because of its successive mutations. More than 4,000 strains of SARS-CoV-2 have already been identified worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But some are more virulent and worrisome than others. Scientists have found triple-mutant varieties in patient samples. In fact, three variants have merged to form a new variant, dubbed the “Bengal strain”. Or, more scientifically, B.1.617.
According to the Times of India, which quotes Vinod Scaria, a researcher at the CSIR Institute of Geonomics and Integrative Biology in India, “this triple mutant is an immune escape variant”. In addition, it carries the E484K mutation found in both the South African and Brazilian variants. In short, one is not safe from this mutant even if one has been vaccinated and even if one has already caught Covid.
Detected in Belgium
The Indian variant is already circulating in Europe. It has been detected in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and, more recently, in Belgium in twenty Indian students who travelled through Roissy airport. According to several experts, they could have been victims of a “super contaminator” during their bus trip between Roissy and Belgium.
In any case, this Indian variant is a cause for concern. Many countries have decided to protect themselves. France has taken strict measures to limit entry into its territory and has imposed a 10-day isolation period for anyone coming from certain high-risk countries, including India. Germany has classified India as a “high-risk country” as of this Sunday, April 25, 2021, and Switzerland is preparing to put India on its “red list”. Others are considering closing their ports and airports to India.
However, the Indian triple mutant “is probably already in France”, explains Karine Lacombe, head of the infectious diseases department at the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris. More than ever it is advisable to apply the barrier gestures to Covid. And washing your hands is the best protection against viruses.