After several media reports referred to B.1.617 as an 'Indian Variant' of the virus, the Union Health Ministry on Wednesday said the WHO has not used the word "Indian" for this strain in its document.
The Ministry dismissed the "without any basis and unfounded" media reports that have used the term "Indian variant" for the B.1.617 mutant strain, which the WHO recently said was a "variant of global concern".
"Several media reports have covered the news of World Health Organisation (WHO) classifying B.1.617 as variant of global concern. Some of these reports have termed the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus as an “Indian Variant”. These media reports are without any basis, and unfounded," the Union Health Ministry said.
"This is to clarify that the WHO has not associated the term "Indian Variant" with the B.1.617 strain of the coronavirus in its 32 page document, it said. "In fact, the word “Indian” has not been used in its report on the matter," the Ministry added.
The government's stern statement on the mutant's branding as an "Indian" variant comes amid political sparring over a reported drive to push "positivity" and offset criticism and "negative" reporting of India's Covid crisis.
Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday clarified that it does not identify viruses or variants with names of countries they are first reported from.
The UN health body urged all to refer to the variants by their scientific names. "WHO does not identify viruses or variants with names of countries they are first reported from. We refer to them by their scientific names and request all to do the same for consistency," tweeted WHO South-East Asia.
Earlier today, a WHO report had said the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19 had been detected in sequences uploaded "from 44 countries in all six WHO regions".
"As of 11 May, over 4,500 sequences have been uploaded to GISAID (platform of data sharing mechanism for influenza) and assigned to B.1.617 from 44 countries in all six WHO regions, and WHO has received reports of detections from five additional countries," WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic. The WHO report also said it has received "reports of detections from five additional countries".
What is B.1.617 COVID-19 variant?
The B.1.617 strain is called a double mutant because of the presence of two changes in the virus's genome, called E484Q and L452R.
According to reports, scientists believe that this strain has pushed new COVID-19 cases to record levels in the second wave of the pandemic.
The B.1.617 variant is the fourth variant "variant of concern" after those detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.
WHO has characterized the lineage B.1.617 as a variant of concern (VOC). This variant, also known as the double mutant, leads to loss of neutralisation of antibodies. The emergence of this variant is being seen as a factor behind the sudden surge in the number of cases.
Variants of concern are those considered more dangerous than the original form of the virus first seen in China in late 2019. That danger stems from a variant's higher transmissibility, lethality and resistance to vaccines, or either of them.
B.1.617 contains three sub-lineages, which differ by few but potentially relevant mutations in the spike protein -- this helps the virus enter the human cells, as well as the prevalence of detection globally.
"At the present time, WHO has designated B.1.617 as a VOC based on early evidence of phenotypic impacts compared to other circulating virus variants," WHO said.
According to WHO, B.1.617 sub-lineages appear to have higher rates of transmission, including observed rapid increases in prevalence in multiple countries.
(With inputs from Agencies)