Public Health England said on Friday that coronavirus variant B.1.617.2 would be classified as a variant of concern.
The variant was first identified in India, and there has been growing evidence that it is more transmissible.
Other characteristics of the variant were still being investigated, announced the Public Health England.
“There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective,” PHE said in a statement.
Public Health England (PHE) is tracking B.1.617.2 which appears to spread more quickly than two other identified subtypes of the Indian variant.
Viruses mutate all the time, producing different versions of themselves. Most of these mutations are insignificant. Most of the mutations may even make the virus less dangerous. However, there are few that can make it more contagious and harder to vaccinate against.
The Kent, South Africa and Brazil strains have all been deemed “variants of concern” in the UK. These versions, along with the India variant, have all undergone changes to their spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells.
Earlier, the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology ICMR-NIV also flagged its pathogenic potential.
Increased severity of B.1.617.1 infection in hamsters was demonstrated by the higher body weight reduction, lung viral load and more severe changes in the lungs as compared to that of B.1 (the first variant of SARS CoV-2, D614G), which had become dominant and is prevalent worldwide since March 2020, according to the study titled “SARS CoV-2 variant B.1.617.1 is highly pathogenic in hamsters than B.1 variant”, posted on May 5 in bioRxiv pre-print.
Dr Pragya D Yadav, scientist ‘E’ and group leader, Maximum Containment Facility, Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology, who is the first author of the paper, said the B.1.617 variant has eight amino acid changes in the spike region.