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India tops 24 million COVID-19 cases, variant goes global

India’s tally of COVID-19 cases surpassed 24 million on Friday, amid reports that the highly transmissible variant was spreading across the globe.

The Indian B.1.617 variant has been found in eight nations in the Americas, including Canada and the United States, said Jairo Mendez, an infectious diseases expert with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“These variants have a greater capacity for transmission, but so far we have not found any collateral consequences,” Mendez said.

Among the infected were travellers in Panama and Argentina who had arrived from India or Europe.

In the Caribbean, the variant was found in Aruba, Dutch St Maarten and the French department of Guadeloupe.

It has spread to the Himalayan nation of Nepal and also been detected in Britain and tiny Singapore.

Public Health England said the total number of infections due to the variant had more than doubled in the past week, to 1,313 across Britain.

“We are anxious about it – it has been spreading,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, adding that meetings would be held to discuss measures.

“We’re ruling nothing out,” Johnson said.

Singapore said it was limiting social gatherings to two persons and putting a halt to dining in restaurants.

About half of the nearly 150 passengers booked to return on Australia’s first repatriation flight from India were denied boarding because of positive test results, an Australian government official said.

“The human catastrophe that is unfolding in India and Nepal should be a warning to other countries in the region to invest heavily in surge capacity for an emergency response,” said Yamini Mishra, of rights group Amnesty International.

“The virus is spreading and transcending borders at a frightening speed and will continue to hit the region’s most marginalized populations hardest of all,” the group’s Asia-Pacific director said in a statement.

Indian health ministry data show 4,000 deaths and 343,144 infections over the last 24 hours.

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