The B1617 Covid-19 variant is spreading worldwide at ‘frightening speed’ and could aggravate the pandemic — particularly in countries with low vaccination rates, according to the latest assessment of the virus by the experts in Singapore.
The B1617 strain is becoming increasingly dominant worldwide and this will not be the last time that the virus mutates, the Strait Times reported on Sunday.
“What is frightening is the speed at which this variant is able to spread and circulate widely within the community, often surpassing the capability of contact-tracing units to track and isolate exposed contacts to break the transmission chains, a Professor Teo Yik Ying, Dean of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, was quoted as saying.
“It has the potential to unleash a bigger pandemic storm than the world has previously seen,” Ying added.
B1617 has mutated to spread more easily from person to person. Even people who have been vaccinated may be vulnerable to this variant, experts say.
The variant was first detected in India in October 2020. As per the latest reports, now more than 50 countries have detected this variant. It has already been declared as a “variant of global concern” by the WHO.
The strain is 1.5 times to two times more transmissible than the strain that first appeared in Wuhan 18 months ago. There are three versions of B1617 — B16171, B16172 and B16173.
While it remains unclear if B1617 causes more serious illness or deaths, the best weapon remains widespread vaccination. Vaccinated individuals have a reduced chance of being infected, and a much lower likelihood of developing severe symptoms even if they are infected, Teo said.
Various researches have shown that the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against B1617.
“These countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, are more vulnerable due to the low vaccination rates, leaving them more susceptible to severe disease,” Fisher said.