Experts: Indian variant still needs more researching

Estonian experts cannot say whether or not the so-called Indian variant of COVID-19 is more contagious or less susceptible to vaccines than other variants as there just is not enough research conducted yet.

One of the components of India's massive hike in coronavirus cases recently is that there were no preparations made for another wave of COVID-19 cases during periods where infection was not as prevalent, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Sunday.

India recorded four consecutive days of world record case numbers with daily cases circling around the 350,000 mark. In actuality, there could be even more cases as the situation has reached a point where hospitals are fully occupied and there is also a lack of oxygen supply for patients.

There were 2,800 deaths recorded in India on Sunday and there is ongoing research to see if the sudden crisis is caused by a new variant of the coronavirus.

University of Tartu cell biology professor Toivo Maimets points out that the so-called Indian variant was actually first noticed in October, but wide-scale spread has kicked off just now. He said he would look for the spread's cause as well.

"People really thought they had beaten the virus. There were religious celebrations - we saw on our televisions how millions of people gathered to dip themselves in the Ganges. And of course, there was no sight of masks or distancing," Maimets noted.

Head of the government's scientific council Irja Lutsar said there were no preparations made in India for a new wave. "In February, cases started to increase but not too rapidly. This was followed by religious festivals, elections and easing all restrictions. That is how this all accumulated," Lutsar said.

Toivo Maimets added that there is a theoretical possibility that the new virus strain binds better to cells and is more contagious and this may also affect the efficacy of vaccines, but this still needs research.

"Even if we know that it binds less to antibodies, this might not mean that vaccines will not help. Perhaps they would work twice as badly, but that might be enough for them to work. Any way, it is certain that it would be much worse without a vaccine," Maimets noted.

Irja Lutsar said that variants spreading around the world are divided into strains of concern and strains of interest. "This Indian strain is somewhere among the interesting strains, not the concerning strains such as the British, Brazilian and South African strains," the virology professor said.

The Indian strain has been noted in several European locations as well - Great Britain, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany have all reported findings of the variant.

Lutsar said it would be wise to not travel to India at this point. "Not because there are these new strains, but because they have high infection and even if people do not get the coronavirus, hospitals are filled and even regular appendicitis could end badly," she said.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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