The high transmission rates along with its ability to cause a more severe form of illness of COVID-19 is what makes this ‘a variant of concern.
The world came to a halt in March of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus was first discovered in citizens of Wuhan, China in December 2019 and has since then traveled through the world, spreading and mutating along the way. To date, 163 million COVID-19 cases have been seen worldwide and the death rate has reached a whopping 3.37 million.
The virus responsible for COVID-19, SARS-COV2 is spread through exposure to droplets generated by an infected person when they sneeze or cough. Wearing a mask and staying at home, while being in nationwide lockdowns was believed to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the COVID-10 pandemic, at least till vaccines could be made and a cure could be found. However, that has not been the case. Although countries like New Zealand managed to flatten the curve, many countries have struggled to do so. This is in part due to the lack of proper adherence to social distancing and quarantine protocols and in part due to the new variants of COVID-19.
The development of vaccines against the SARS-COV2 virus was believed to help the situation. Vaccination programs are running at full force, with more than three different COVID-19 vaccines on the market. Despite it all, certain countries like India have been experiencing a deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation in India is worsened by the Indian variant of the virus, which is believed to be a highly transmissible form of COVID-19.
What makes the Indian Variant so deadly?
World Health Organization has actively followed the variants of the virus, named after their countries of origin, and classified them as either variant of interest or the more serious classification; variants of concern. The Indian variant, which is officially called B.1.617.2, has been classified as a variant of concern due to the high rates of transmission, more severe illness, and reduced effects of treatments and vaccines.
The variant was first discovered in October 2020, and it has now spread to 30 other countries leading the governments of these countries to think of re-implementing lockdown restrictions as treatment options for this variant are limited. India has also been put on a travel ban to avoid the further spread of the variant.
As of 15th May 2021, India reported 311,170 new cases of COVID-19. The surge in cases has put the hospitals, crematoriums, and the general infrastructure of the Indian health care system under great pressure which has been worsened by an Oxygen shortage. Lack of oxygen supply and hospital beds, along with reduced appropriate and effective treatment options for the new variant has resulted in an average of 3,991 deaths per day.
Indian doctors are facing the effects of the new, deadlier variant firsthand, and feel overwhelmed by the lack of resources and high death rates, leading to burnout and high suicide rates amongst physicians. The new variant may or may not be the reason behind the second wave, but it is definitely worsening the existing condition, not just physically but also psychologically.