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Triple Mutant Covid Strain: A new challenge

India is currently going through the worst phase of the Covid-19 crisis. The health system has already collapsed under the pressure of new infections every day. Hospitals have run out of beds, states are appealing for more oxygen from the centre, and patients are losing the battle due to the lack of oxygen everywhere in the country. 

India, on Thursday, recorded over 3.14 lakh new infections pushing the country’s coronavirus tally to 1,59,30,965, according to government data. Over 3,14,835 fresh infections were registered in a span of 24 hours and the death toll increased to 1,84,657 with a record 2,104 new fatalities. 

Now, to add to all of this crisis, a new ‘Triple Mutant Strain’ of the SARS-CoV2 virus has been detected in as many as 4 states in the country. The mayhem created by the existing double-mutant strain is not hidden. It has scratched open the vulnerabilities of the states and its frail structure. To add to the miseries, the detection of this new variant is a worry for doctors and epidemiologists.

Many countries have already put a travel restriction on India, and some key visits of important heads of the state have cancelled their visits. PM Boris Johnson (UK) has had to cancel his important bilateral visit to India for the second time in a year, and Japan’s newly appointed PM Yoshihide Suga has also postponed his India visit due to the deadly second wave of COVID-19 in India. 

What is this Triple Mutant? Where has it been found?

In layman language, Triple Mutant simply means that three COVID-19 strains have combined to form a new variant. It has been already detected in some parts of the country including Maharashtra, Delhi and West Bengal, as per some media reports. 

The detection of this new variant is a matter of concern for a country like India where genome sequencing is being done for less than one per cent of all cases, currently. 

Experts and Epidemiologists say that the reason behind so many mutations of the virus is the pace with which it is spreading throughout the country. As the virus spreads, it replicates more and more, and new strains are formed because of mutations. These new double and triple mutated virus strains are the main reason why India is seeing a rapid spike in new infections across the country.

Elaborating on the new variant of Coronavirus, Vinod Scaria, a Scientist at CSIR-Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB) on Tuesday took to his Twitter handle sharing how it was an “immune escape variant.” According to him, the B.1.618 – a new lineage of SARS-CoV-2 predominantly found in India is characterized by a distinct set of genetic variants including E484K which is a major immune escape variant. This lineage is characterized by a 6 nt deletion (H146del &Y145del), apart from E484K and D614G in spike protein.

Will the existing Indian vaccines be effective against the new Triple Variant?

According to the initial research and scientific data, scientists are not sure about how the existing vaccines will exactly respond against the new variant of the virus. Two of the three variants in the triple mutation have been seen to have immune escape responses, meaning they are more resistant to antibodies. Not much more is known yet on the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists believe the new variant has some ability to escape the body’s naturally acquired immunity to Covid. There’ll be much more research on the virus in the times to come, but scientists are sure that vaccines are the only effective weapon to fight the virus.

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