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The coronavirus variant first found in India is a global health threat, the World Health Organization says

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coronavirus india pandemic
A medical worker administers a coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in New Delhi on April 22. Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images
  • The World Health Organization said a coronavirus variant discovered in India was a health threat.

  • The B.1.617 variant has devastated India's healthcare system, leading to oxygen shortages.

  • Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO expert, said researchers would need to further investigate the strain.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A top official at the World Health Organization said on Monday that it would classify a coronavirus variant first found in India as a global health concern.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for COVID-19 at WHO, said the B.1.617 variant that has devastated India's healthcare system was a global threat, adding that the agency planned to release more information on Tuesday in its Situation Report.

"We are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level," she said on Monday. "Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage, in all of the sublineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done."

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO's chief scientist, told Agence France-Presse on Saturday that the B.1.617 variant was concerning because it contains mutations that increase transmission.

She also said the mutations could cause variants to become resistant to the available vaccines.

"Variants which accumulate a lot of mutations may ultimately become resistant to the current vaccines that we have," Swaminathan said.

Despite the concerns about the effects of the mutations, researchers have said the vaccines still offer some protection against the virus and the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.

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India's confirmed COVID-19 cases have spiked in the past month, filling hospitals to capacity and leading to oxygen shortages in several medical facilities. According to Bloomberg's vaccine tracker, the country has been administering 1.9 million vaccine doses a day, but only 2.6% of the population is fully vaccinated.

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