AY.4.2 variant of coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly in some foreign countries, has increased to seven in Karnataka with three more people found to be infected with it in the city. Speaking to reporters here, State Health and Family Welfare Commissioner D Randeep said, “There are seven cases (of AY.4.2) in the state — three in Bengaluru and four in different parts of the state.
A sub-lineage of the Delta variant of COVID-19, AY.4.2, has been detected in the United Kingdom, China, and Russia, and now it has made its way to India. Several states have reported the new strain Andhra Pradesh 07 cases, Kerala 4, Karnataka and Telangana 2 cases each, Jammu & Kashmir and Maharashtra have reported 1 case, respectively taking the total tally to 17.
The Commissionerate of Health and Family Welfare Services in Karnataka issued an official memo warning the public against the AY.4.2 strain. “As the complete nature of the said newly reported variant is yet to be understood, it is crucial to step up vigilance & follow Covid-19 appropriate behavior instead of creating panic among the public,” the note read.
If we go back to April of this year, we can trace the origins of AY.4.2. Our team in Northumbria, working as part of Cog-UK, the British consortium that sequences the genomes of COVID samples to see how the virus is changing, had just sequenced two samples connected via travel history to India.
At the time we knew the lineage circulating in India was B.1.617, but the cases we had sampled didn’t match this. Variants are distinguished by the different mutations they have in their genetic material and, looking at the mutations in our samples, it appeared our cases were missing some of the commonly accepted mutations of B.1.617 but also had some additional ones.
We’re still not sure if AY.4’s mutations confer a genuine advantage or if the increasing frequency of the lineage is simply down to what’s called a “founder effect”. This is when a subset of viruses get separated from the overall viral population, and then reproduce in isolation. In the area where the separated viruses are, all subsequent viruses will therefore be descendants of this subset.
With COVID, this might have happened by there being a single case at a large event. This lone virus would have been the “founder”, the only virus spreading at the event. If it infected a sizeable number of people, who later infected others, this may have quickly built up a large amount of virus all from the same origin. Sometimes, for a certain form of a virus to dominate, it doesn’t have to be better than others, it simply needs to be in the right place at the right time.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also decided to classify the AY.4.2 sub-lineage of the Delta variant as a “variant under investigation.” It is likely that this type of COVID-19 virus will be called the “Nu” variant by the global health agency.
Though the spread of the new variant has spiked fear among citizens, experts have stated that there is no evidence till now that suggests that the AY.4.2 is deadlier than the Delta variant, which emerged during the deadly second wave of the pandemic in India.