On Thursday, Indian health authorities reported more than 314,000 new infections with the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus, and no other country in the world is currently seeing such a sharp increase in infection numbers. Currently, variant B.1.617 is found in nearly 70 percent of virus samples that are genetically decoded. It was first registered in India, but has since reached more than 20 other countries and, in March, Germany.
So far, B.1.617 is not classified as a concern, but the variant is under surveillance. There are a number of unanswered questions: whether it is more transmissible or causes more severe courses of covid-19. Two of the genetic changes in B.1.617 suggest that it may be less sensitive to antibodies. That is, the variant could infect Covid-19 convalescents or those vaccinated with previous vaccines, and treatment with engineered therapeutic antibodies could be less effective.
Two mutations are responsible, which slightly alter the structure of the stinging protein that the virus uses to dock with human cells. Antibodies produced against the original variant are less able to bind to the altered form.Similar changes are already known from the South African and Brazilian variants B.1.351 and P.1. B.1.617, like these variants, might be less well neutralized by antibodies. Another mutation has already been found in the British variant B.1.1.7. It could influence how the viruses bind to cells. However, its effects still need to be researched further.
Naming the variants after the countries in which they were first registered is common, but not scientifically justified. In which country they originated is hardly verifiable and not decisive for the further spread.