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A "double mutant" Covid mutant has been detected with hundreds of samples carrying strain in India.
A senior government official said the novel coronavirus was found in 206 samples in the worst-hit western state of Maharashtra.
The new variant was also detected in nine samples in the capital New Delhi, the director of the National Centre for Disease Control, Sujeet Kumar Singh, told a news conference.
A double mutation is "two mutations coming together in the same virus", virologist Shahid Jameel explains.
"A double mutation in the key areas of the virus's spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system and make it more infectious," he adds.
It comes as 771 other coronavirus variants have been detected in samples from 18 states across India.
Of the 10,787 samples, 736 were positive for the UK variant, 34 for the South African variant and one for the Brazilian variant.
The government said that an analysis of the samples collected from India's western Maharashtra state shows "an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations" compared with December last year.
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"Such [double] mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity," the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Dr Jameel added that "there may be a separate lineage developing in India with the L452R and E484Q mutations coming together".
But the government denied that the rise in case numbers was linked to the mutations.
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"Though VOCs [variants of concern] and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states."
The report comes amid a recent surge in Covid cases in India with a whopping 47,262 cases and 275 deaths on Wednesday – the sharpest daily rise this year.
Government officials insisted there was no link between the spike in cases and these variants.
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The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a group of 10 national laboratories under India's Health Ministry, carried out genomic sequencing on the samples.
Genomic sequencing is a testing process to map the entire genetic code of an organism – in this case, the virus.
India's latest Covid surge – which began this month – comes during what some experts have called a 'delicate phase' for India – the healthcare system is already exhausted from a year-long battle against the coronavirus.
States have already begun re-introducing restrictions, including curfews and intermittent lockdowns, to control the spread of the virus.
Two major cities, capital Delhi and Mumbai, have also ordered randomised rapid tests at airports, train stations and crowded areas such as shopping malls.
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