The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday, 22 June, briefed the media on the COVID-19 situation in the country at Delhi's National Media Centre, noting that India has recorded 22 cases of the Delta Plus variant – which is presently classified as a 'variant of concern.'
The Health Ministry had previously notified Delta Plus as a 'variant of interest.'
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan stated, “16 of the 22 cases of Delta Plus variant have been found in Ratnagiri and Jalgaon (Maharashtra) and some cases in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.”
What do we know about the variant? Who is at risk? Is it more transmissible? Read on.
What is the Delta Plus variant?
The Delta plus variant refers to a mutation found in the B.1.617.2 variant of SARS-CoV-2 – also called the Delta variant – which was first identified in India. It has now acquired the K417N spike mutation – to form the ‘Delta Plus’ or AY.1 variant.
Is it more transmissible?
According to the Health Ministry, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a network of 28 laboratories, found that the new virus has:
Stronger binding to receptors of lung cells
Leads to potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response that can fight the disease
Which states have been affected by the Delta Plus variant?
In a press release shared shortly after the briefing, the Health Ministry alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh based on the findings of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) regarding the Delta Plus variant.
“The variant has been found in genome sequenced samples from Ratnagiri and Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra; Palakkad and Pathanamthitta districts of Kerala; and Bhopal and Shivpuri districts of Madhya Pradesh," the press release stated.
Are vaccines effective against the variant?
Touching upon vaccine efficacy against the variant, the health secretary said that the vaccines being administered in the national vaccination programme – Covishield and Covaxin – are effective against the variant. However, he added that the extent and proportion of antibody titers that they produce, would be shared shortly.
What measures should be taken to curtail the spread?
The ministry has urged the states to make their public health response measures 'more focused and effective'.
The states' chief secretaries have been advised to take up immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters (as identified by INSACOG), and prevent crowds and intermingling of people, include widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on priority basis.
Is the variant found in other countries?
A recent Public Health England report had said that 63 genomes of the Delta variant with the K417N mutation have been identified on the GISAID (a global science initiative that provides genomic data of influenza viruses), including six in India, as of 7 June 2021.
Thirty-six cases have been found in England.
The strain is reportedly found in nine countries – US, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China and Russia.
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