Nepal Covid variant: Does it exist and should we be worried?

·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Reports of a new Covid variant linked to Nepal swept the nation this week But is it a new variant and, if so, should we be concerned?

What is the Nepal variant?

Experts believe the Nepal variant is in fact a mutation of the Indian Covid variant, also known as Delta.

The Science Media Centre (SMC) said the new mutation has been named K417N and it is “definitely not” being considered as a new variant of concern at this stage.

It has also been referred to as Delta plus K417N.

Where does the Nepal variant come from?

According to the GISAID worldwide database, the first recorded case was in India, not Nepal.

However Nepal does very little sequencing which means it is possible it has far more cases left unrecorded, scientists said.

So far, 91 cases have been recorded including in the UK, Portugal, US, Japan, India and Nepal.

The mutation was first recorded in the UK on April 24.

Of a total 14 registered cases in Japan, 13 come from people travelling from Nepal.

What are the concerns?

Scientists are carefully monitoring the K417N mutation, according to the SMC.

The same changes were also found in the South African, or Beta, variant which is why there are concerns it is resistant to vaccines.

Furthermore this mutation comes from the Indian, or Delta, variant which suggests it could have the same ability to spread more quickly.

Scientists have not confirmed whether the mutation is more deadly that others.

Dr Jeff Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institution, said: “This Delta plus K417N has been seen in numerous countries including the UK, Portugal, the USA, and India.

“It has also been observed once in Nepal, which does very little sequencing, and 14 times in Japan, of which 13 are samples from airport quarantine from travellers from Nepal.”

He added: “There have been 91 sequences observed in the GISAID database of B.1.617.2, or Delta, with an additional mutation - K417N.

“This mutation is present in B.1.351, or Beta, and is believed to be part of why that variant is less well neutralised by vaccines.

“Because of this possibility, and because Delta appears more transmissible than Beta, scientists are monitoring it carefully.”

What does Public Health England say?

Thousands of Covid-19 variants now exist worldwide. Public health authorities only focus on those that appear more dangerous or have seemingly worrying mutations.

Public Health England refers to these as “variants of concern” or “variants under investigation” respectively.

Currently, it reports no Nepal variant under investigation and no Nepal variant of concern.

What does the WHO say?

The World Health Organisation has said it is “not aware” of any variant of concern detected in Nepal.

A post on Twitter on Thursday read: “WHO is not aware of any new variant of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in Nepal.

“The three confirmed variants in circulation are: Alpha (B.1.1.7), Delta (B.1.617.2) and Kappa (B.1.617.1). The predominant variant currently in circulation in Nepal is Delta (B.1.617.2).”

How is the Nepal variant affecting the UK?

Grant Shapps referred to the apparent detection of a "Nepal mutation" during the UK's travel announcement on Thursday.

The Transport Secretary blamed the rising infection rate of the mutation for the decision to remove Portugal from the green list and make travellers quarantine in the UK.

But Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, an expert in infection and immunity at the University of Edinburgh, said case levels in Portugal are "still very similar to the UK."

Information and opinion continues to evolve as scientists monitor its development.

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