A new “double mutant” strain of the coronavirus has been discovered from samples obtained in India.
Officials are investigating whether the strain, which occurs when two mutations occur in the same virus, is more infectious or immune to vaccinations.
771 cases of known variants were found in 10,787 samples from 18 Indian nations, including 736 from the United Kingdom, 34 from South Africa, and one from Brazil.
The variants are not related to an increase in cases in India, according to officials.
On Wednesday, India recorded 47,262 cases and 275 deaths, the highest daily increase this year.
The latest samples were sequenced by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a network of ten national laboratories under India’s health ministry.
The virus’s genetic code functions similarly to an instruction manual. Virus mutations are common, but most of them are minor and have little effect on the virus’s ability to spread or cause serious infection. However, such mutations, such as those found in the UK or South Africa variant lineages, can make the virus more contagious and, in certain cases, deadly.
According to virologist Shahid Jameel says, “Double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system”.
The spike protein is the virus’s component that allows it to enter human cells.
After isolating the genome of the novel coronavirus from some of the first cases recorded in January last year, India became the fifth country in the world to sequence it.
The new surge, which started this month, comes at a “delicate phase” for India, according to some experts, as the country’s healthcare system is still exhausted from a year-long fight against the coronavirus.
Curfews and occasional lockdowns have also been reinstated in a number of states.