The pandemic in India has progressively worsened as new daily cases of COVID-19 have risen above 300,000. Adding to the ever-growing list of issues are the emergence of several new mutant strains.
The total number of new cases on Wednesday rose to 315,802 according to Worldometers.com. This total now places India as the record holder for highest daily case count, surpassing the record US total by several thousand cases. For the caseload to have surged so rapidly from a country that appeared to be in control of the situation, to the major driver in global cases is an ominous portent.
As cases rise there is an ever-increasing risk of the development of new mutations. This situation has become a reality as the so-called “Bengal strain” (B.1.618) has been documented in India. This new strain is the first recorded triple mutation. Scientists have expressed concern that the triple mutation strain is potentially more infectious, better able to evade the host’s immune system, and, perhaps most concerningly, could be able to infect individuals who have already contracted other strains of COVID-19.
The same concerns have been raised regarding the double-variant, now postured to be the predominant strain in India. Professor Sir Mark Walport, former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, told BBC Breakfast. “You can see that it’s becoming the dominant variant and the other concern about it is that it has a second change in the spike protein which may mean that it’s able to be a bit more effective at escaping an immune response, either a natural one or vaccine-induced one,” he said.
So far, the Centre has acknowledged the presence of the double mutant, citing it as a “variant of interest” rather than a “variant of concern”. Opinions stemming from Government figures, as Health Issues India reported earlier this week, appear to understate the issue. Dr Balram Bhargava, Director-General (DG) of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has claimed that this second wave is ‘less severe’ than the previous one.
Doctors on the ground have opinions that contrast with this message. “I believe we are seeing a stronger mutation, many patients are testing negative for the virus but clinically they are COVID-19 positive. The pandora’s box of this disaster is open now,” said Dr Pankaj Solanki, Medical Director at the Dharamveer Solanki Hospital in New Delhi.
As cases have surged to eclipse the figures seen in last September’s peak, it is now undeniable that India is in a worse position than during the first peak. While Government officials may run true in their statement that mortality rates remain the same as a percentage of cases, the sheer number of new cases mean that these percentages translate to higher figures — a reality that the Indian medical system must now face.