New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: India is reeling under the second wave of coronavirus with the country recording world's sharpest spike in new COVID-19 cases daily from the past few days. In another world record, India on Friday recorded over 3.86 lakh cases taking the overall caseload to 1.87 crore, while over 3,400 deaths in a day took the death toll to 2.08 lakh. Adding to woes, the country is also facing an acute shortage of hospital beds, medical oxygen and essential medicines to treat COVID-19.

Amid the resurgence of COVID-19 in the country, scientists are studying what led to an unexpected surge, and particularly whether a variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in India is to blame. The variant, named B.1.617, has been reported in some 17 countries, raising global concern. Let's know about the Indian variant of coronavirus in detail.

What is the Indian Variant of coronavirus?

The B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer spike portion of the virus that attaches to human cells. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the predominant lineage of B.1.617 was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020. The WHO has described it as a "variant of interest", suggesting it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmissible and cause more severe disease or evade vaccine immunity. Other strains with known risks, such as those first detected in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, have been categorised as "variants of concern," a higher threat level.

Are the new variants behind the surge in COVID-19 cases?

According to the WHO, it's hard to say whether the new variants are behind the surge in cases and more study is needed to prove this. However, the WHO said that laboratory-based studies of limited sample size suggest potential increased transmissibility. The picture is complicated because the highly transmissible B.117 variant first detected in the U.K. is behind spikes in some parts of India. In New Delhi, UK variant cases almost doubled during the second half of March, according to Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of the National Centre for Disease Control as quoted by news agency Reuters.

The Indian variant, though, is widely present in Maharashtra, the country's hardest-hit state, he added. A researcher from Washington University has suggested that the sheer magnitude of infections in India in a short period of time suggests an "escape variant" may be overpowering any prior immunity from natural infections in those populations. "That makes it most likely that it is B.1.617," he said.

Can vaccines used in India stop the Indian variant?