India is battling a deadly second wave of Covid-19 cases in the past few weeks.
It saw another new record when the country racked up 2,023 deaths and more than 295,000 new infections by yesterday with no sign that the surge is abating.
Last week, reports revealed that nearly 50 per cent of all Covid-19 samples sent for genome sequencing from Maharashtra showed a double mutation – perhaps the clearest sign yet that this new variant, B.1.617, is behind the surge in infections.
The variant was also discovered in samples from eight other states.
Some 10,787 samples from 18 Indian states also showed up 771 cases of known variants – 736 of the UK, 34 of the South African and one Brazilian.
The variant includes the E484Q and L452R mutations. Preliminary studies from other countries suggest that the E484Q mutation provides the variant with greater immune escape potential while the L452R has been revealed to increase infectivity, having been linked to an infection cluster in the US previously.
But compounding what has already turned into an unprecedented public health crisis is the reported presence of a third mutation in the B.1.617 strain that has been identified from samples across, at least, four states.
This triple-mutant variant has been discovered in Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.
As per some reports, the Health Ministry was made aware of the possibility of an additional mutation in the B.1.617 strain last week, with West Bengal, currently in the midst of a six-phase election, touted to be at greatest risk.
Unfortunately, India’s dire genome sequencing rates mean that little information is currently available around the new triple-mutant variant circulating in the country.
The capital Delhi was placed in lockdown for a week from Monday, and Maharashtra state, the centre of the surge and home to the financial capital, Mumbai, further tightened restrictions on shops and home deliveries from Tuesday.
The US Centres for Disease Control on Monday advised against all travel to India, and the UK imposed restrictions on arrival from the country.
India has recorded more than 15 million cases of Covid-19, second only to the US, and has the fourth highest death toll at more than 180,000.
India, hit by the spread of more contagious variants of the disease, is grappling with a severe shortage of hospital beds, oxygen supplies and critical medicines such as the anti-viral drug Remdesivir.
Concerned over the surge of coronavirus cases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked authorities to pull out all the stops to ramp up the production of Covid-19 vaccines.
Modi also reviewed his administration’s overall preparedness and stressed the need to ensure the availability of hospital beds and the supplies of oxygen and ventilators.
He also asked his team to work closely with local governments, especially the 12 states ravaged by a surge in coronavirus cases.
Less than 100 critical care beds were available in the city of more than 20 million people, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday, as social media was flooded with people complaining about lack of beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs.
“The bigger worry is that in last 24 hours positivity rate has increased to around 30 per cent from 24 per cent. The cases are rising very rapidly while beds are filling fast,” Kejriwal told a news briefing.
Stung by the shortages of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders, people used Twitter to seek help and post pictures of overwhelmed hospitals.