Countries, including Singapore, on guard against India's new 'double-mutant' Covid-19 variant

A health worker walks through at a makeshift Covid-19 quarantine facility set up at a banquet hall in New Delhi, India, on April 21, 2021. - Bloomberg

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): A new "double-mutant' variant that is fuelling India's terrifying second wave has led to various countries, including Singapore, taking measures to guard against it.

Called B1617, the new variant is the first to have two mutations E484Q and L452R, which have been seen in other variants.

It has not yet been classified as a "variant of concern" -- a term used for other variants like the B117 that was first detected in the United Kingdom and found here -- but it is proving to be worrying.

India now accounts for one in three new Covid-19 cases in the world. New cases there rose above 100,000 in early April, surpassing the previous peak in September last year. By April 19, in just two weeks, new cases had surged to more than 273,000 a day.

"We do not yet have sufficient data to be certain about whether B.1.617 is more virulent than others," said Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, the vice-dean of global health at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"But a highly transmissible virus is already more dangerous, by virtue of the fact that it can potentially infect more people which will result in more deaths even if its virulence is no different from the wild-type Covid-19 virus."

"The B1617 is the most commonly isolated variant in India now, although the surge is caused primarily by human behaviour - the relaxation of physical distancing and safety measures after successfully curbing the initial wave of Covid-19 by the end of 2020," said Prof Hsu.

For Singapore, variants of concern are a worry only if they have the ability to evade the effects of the vaccine and continue to infect someone who has been vaccinated to the point that he develops complications from the infection.

"What we have seen so far is that the multi-layer measures that Singapore has implemented have been able to prevent widespread community outbreaks," said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"There are the occasional reports of community cases and the emergence of new clusters, but these have all been very small clusters and sporadic community cases."

It means that there is still the need to maintain safe management and public health measures, he said. -The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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