New Delhi: As many as 40 cases of Delta Plus COVID variant have been detected in India — the strain which the government has tagged as a “Variant of Concern”.
A total of 21 cases of the new strain have been found in Maharashtra, six in Madhya Pradesh, three each in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, two in Karnataka and one each in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Jammu, said sources.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on Tuesday also informed that the Delta Plus variant of Covid-19 was found in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri and Jalgaon; Kerala’s Palakkad and Pathanamthitta; and Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal and Shivpur.
The genome sequenced samples received from Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh as well as other states confirmed the presence of Delta Plus variant, a mutation of the Delta strain or B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India.
Soon after findings, the Ministry alerted the three states to take precautionary measures and shared that Delta Plus has characteristics like increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
The Chief Secretaries of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh has been advised to take up immediate containment measures in different districts and clusters, including preventing crowds, widespread testing, prompt tracing and vaccine coverage.
Delta Plus cases, still a low number, are emerging as large parts of India are ending severe lockdowns and restrictions with Covid cases on the decline after a fierce second wave ambushed the nation’s health infrastructure in April-May.
INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia), a consortium of 28 labs tasked with genome sequencing of the virus causing Covid, says properties of the Delta Plus are still being investigated. It is characterized by a mutation in the spike protein, which helps the virus gain entry into human cells.
“Currently the number of such Delta plus variants in India are only few but the distribution or detection in various states during past two months indicate that it is already present in some states and states may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing and priority vaccination,” it says.
Very little is known about this strain, which is now in nine countries — the US, the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Russia and China besides India.
According to the government, the Delta Plus, much like the Delta strain that has spread to 80 countries, is highly infectious and fast spreading.
According to INSACOG, the Delta Plus shows “increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and potentially reduced monoclonal antibody response”.
It may also show resistance to existing treatment protocol for Covid, experts worry. There are concerns over whether current vaccines will be effective against the Delta Plus.
The government said while the two vaccines being used in India, Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, are effective against the Delta variant, data on how they work on the Delta Plus would be shared later.