The COVID-19 variant believed to be behind a devastating surge of infections and deaths in India has been detected in 17 countries worldwide including multiple European nations.
According to data obtained by Euronews from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the B.1.617 variant — also known as the Indian variant because it was first detected in the Southeast Asian country — has now been found in seven European countries.
These are Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and the UK.
The UK had by April 21 detected 132 cases — the most of any European country. The other European countries have so far observed fewer than 10 cases each.
In its latest weekly update released on Tuesday, the World Health Organisation flagged that "at least 17 countries" have seen infections with the Indian variant and that most of the samples "come from India, the United Kingdom, the United States and Singapore."
The B.1.617 variant has multiple sub-lineages which slightly differ by their characteristic mutations but one of the main ones, called L452R, has been associated with increased transmissibility and lower resistance to treatment including vaccination, the WHO noted.
The head of the German laboratory BioNTech said on Wednesday however that he is "confident" their COVID vaccine developed in collaboration with Pfizer is effective against the Indian variant.
Ugur Sahin told a virtual press conference that tests are underway but that "the Indian variant has mutations that we have already studied and against which our vaccine works, which makes us confident."
India passed the grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday with more than 3,000 deaths reported over the previous 24 hours — a daily record for the country. The number of fatalities has soared in recent weeks with about 44,000 deaths registered since March 1.
It has also detected more than 300,000 new infections for the seventh consecutive day.
The dramatic situation has been compounded by shortages of medical supplies, prompting multiple other countries to prepare emergency shipments.
The first delivery of ventilators and oxygen concentrators from the UK arrived in India on Tuesday while a French plane was on its way. The European Union and the US have also pledged support.
In response to the variant, the UK, France, Germany and Belgium have closed their borders to travellers from India, allowing only their citizens and residents to enter with strict quarantine requirements upon arrival.