The Uttar Pradesh government recently released the findings of the first batch of genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus carried out at the King George Medical University in Lucknow. Of the 109 samples that were analysed, 107 turned out to be the widespread Delta variant, while the remaining two were the Kappa variant.
The Delta and Kappa variants are actually siblings, the direct descendants of a variant that earlier used to be referred to as the double mutant, or B.1.617.
But by that time, the B.1.617 variant, commonly referred to as the double mutant, had already mutated further into three significant variants. Scientifically, they are referred to as B.1.617,1, B.1.617.2, and B.1.617.3.
The B.1.617.1 was named Kappa, while the B.1.617.2 became Delta. No specific name was given to the B.1.617.3 because it was not very widespread. The variant that emerged in the UK (B.1.1.7) was called Alpha; the variant first reported in South Africa (B.1.351) became Beta; while the so-called “Brazil variant” (P.1) was named Gamma. These names were given only for easy reference in public discussions. They continue to have more formal scientific names.
Kappa is not a new variant of Covid-19. According to the WHO, this variant was first identified in India in October 2020.
Kappa variant, designated on April 4, is still listed among ‘variants of interest’, and not ‘variants of concern’, by the WHO. By working definition, such variants of interests are “a SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape”.