India’s devastating second COVID-19 wave correlated with the sudden spike in infected passengers from that country arriving at Canadian airports.
And that wave, say Indian health officials, is being fuelled by a recently-discovered ‘double-mutation’ strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — a variant that combines two mutations only previously found in separate strains that increase infectiousness and resistance to antibodies.
“Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity,” read a March 24 statement from India’s Health Ministry.
“These mutations have been found in about 15-20% of samples and do not match any previously catalogued VOCs.”
Between March 21 and April 6, 121 flights landed in Toronto carrying infected passengers — 42 of those flights arrived from Delhi.
This ‘double-mutant’ strain, which as of Thursday earned designation B.1.617, is believed responsible for surges of COVID-19 infections in India’s hardest-hit states, say health officials.
While officials agree B.1.617 is freely spreading around India — with some estimating its responsible for a nearly 60% surge in cases in India’s most populous state of Maharashtra, there’s evidence B.1.617 is spreading beyond the country’s borders.
A scientist described B.1.617 to Chennai-based newspaper The Hindu as a “homegrown variant and widely exported internationally.”
Indeed, earlier this week Stanford University researchers identified five separate B.1.617 cases in the San Francisco Bay Area — the first such cases in North America.
Raji Jayaraman, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said India had no concrete plans on how to reopen their economy as falling case counts appeared to signal the pandemic’s end — as seven-day moving averages bottomed out at 11,000 new daily infections by mid-February.
“Different parts of the country gradually opened up, there wasn’t a particular date that a reopening was declared,” she said.
An unrealistic hope of herd immunity fuelled the re-opening, she explained — bolstered by 21% of Delhi residents testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies.
New cases promptly spiked, growing from about 15,000 on March 8 to Thursday’s new high of 132,000.
That was also when Canada started recording an increase in COVID-19 infected airline passengers from Delhi, with 13 landing in Toronto between Feb 4. and Feb 14. increasing to 21 between March 4 and March 20 and 23 flights between March 21 and April 1, according to two-week Health Canada data.