‘Double Mutant’ Variant Discovered in India

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. receiving a coronavirus vaccine. Source: AP Photo
  • At the moment, India is reporting more than 35,000 new daily coronavirus cases.
  • In a recent statement, India’s health ministry announced the discovery of a new ‘double mutant’ coronavirus variant.
  • Health officials do not believe the rise in cases is a result of the new variants.

On Thursday, 25th March, India’s health ministry announced the discovery of a new ‘double mutant’ variant of coronavirus in the country. According to the statement, health officials have detected more than 700 variants of concerns (VOC) in a total sample of 10,787. Out of these 736 tested positive for the UK variant, 34 for the South African variant, and one for the Brazilian.

This past week, the country recorded 53,476 new coronavirus cases. This is the highest daily rise in the country since October of last year. Moreover, for more than a week, over 35,000 new cases have been reported across the region. Thus, raising concerns of a second wave. Despite the sharp increase in cases, researchers don’t believe it has a link to the variants.

Though VOCs and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish or direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some States. Genomic sequencing and epidemiological studies are continuing to further analyze the situation.

India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

What is a Double Mutant Variant?

India is the fifth country in the world to conduct genomic sequencing and analysis on coronavirus strains. The analysis conducted by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), revealed an increase in E484Q and L452R mutations. It was present in 15-20% of the samples and does not match any of the previously discovered VOCs. Such mutations can lead to increased infectivity and help the virus evade an immune response.

The reported variant, with the E484Q and L452R mutations, is called a ‘double variant’.

Although mutations are a common occurrence in viruses, changes to the spike protein can ultimately result in a more infective virus. Some spike protein mutations can help the virus bind to cells more tightly, or even help it escape neutralizing antibodies.

According to scientists, a double mutant is a new variant with two mutations that has the characteristics of known variant mutations. However, it is unlikely that India’s new variant is more transmissible or deadly. Researchers are currently investigating the variant further, and the effects of the mutations.

Is there a reason to be worried about this particular variant? Not as yet, because we have no evidence that these variants are more transmissible or more lethal than what we already have.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, founder of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi 

Meanwhile, the Indian government has stepped up its vaccination program. So far, health officials have administered more than 50 million doses of coronavirus vaccines. A combination of stricter lockdown measures and a wider vaccine program will likely help control the rising cases in the country.


Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. (2021, March 24). Genome Sequencing by INSACOG shows variants of concern and a Novel variant in India [Press release]. Retrieved from https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1707177


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