The Delta Plus or the AY.1 variant of the COVID19 virus has been reported from the Indian states of Kerala, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The Union government has issued an advisory to these three states to take measures to contain the outbreak. Here’s what we know so far.
A mutation in the spike protein of the Delta Plus variant called K417N is what lends the strain highly infectious characteristics.
On June 23, the Union Health Ministry stated that the ‘Delta Plus’ variant or AY.1 strain of SARS-CoV-2 virus has been found in samples collected from Kerala, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh.
Also, it was reported later in the day that Tamil Nadu recorded its maiden case of the Delta Plus variant as a 32-year-old nurse from Chennai was found to be infected by the mutated strain.
The Delta Plus variant, which has been found to have the characteristics that makes it the most infectious amongst all other variants of COVID19, has been declared to be a ‘variant of concern’ by the ministry.
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On June 24, five cases of infection by Delta Plus variant were identified from Madhya Pradesh. State’s Medical Education Minister Vishwas Sarang told a news agency that four persons are fine but one of them has died.
The death of one more person is yet to be attributed to the Delta Plus variant.
“The other four persons, who were vaccinated against COVID-19 , are fine…. one person from Ujjain, who died, was not inoculated,” he was quoted as saying.
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Two days back, On June 22, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare informed in a statement that the Delta Plus or the AY.1 variant has been found to have three worrying characteristics: greater transmissibility; stronger binding with the receptors of lung cells; and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
These three characteristics make Delta Plus most infectious and highly resistant to the antibodies produced by our immune system.
The same day, in its press briefing on the advisory sent to the states where Delta Plus has been found, the health ministry informed that the chief secretaries of the three states have been advised to take up ‘immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters including preventing crowds and intermingling of people, widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis’.
The Delta Plus variant was first reported in the Public Health England bulletin on June 11.
A mutation in the spike protein of the Delta Plus variant called K417N is what lends the strain highly infectious characteristics. The mutation provides the virus with an ability to evade the immune system’s natural defenses.
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“The mutation K417N has been of interest as it is present in the Beta variant (B.1.351 lineage), which was reported to have immune evasion property,” India’s health ministry also said in its statement on June 22.
“In India, Delta Plus variant has been detected in 22 samples. Sixteen of them have been found in Jalgaon and Ratnagiri districts in Maharashtra; the remaining have been detected in Kerala (Palakkad and Pathanamthitta) and Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal and Shivpuri)… But we don’t want this to assume significant proportions,” Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told the media persons in the press conference on June 22.
As per the latest news reports, of the 1,219 samples’ report Madhya Pradesh has received back from the Union Health Ministry, a total of 380 samples had tested positive for mutated COVID19 variant.
Of these, six were suspected to be infected with Delta Plus variant, 56 had contracted the Alpha, and 318 were infected with Delta variant.
Apart from India, some other countries have also reported Delta Plus variant. These include, Britain ( 36 cases), Japan (15), Nepal (3), Poland (9), Portugal ( 22), the United States (83) and one each in Russia, Turkey and Portugal.
Senior virologist Shahid Jameel, Director of Trivedi School of Biosciences at the Ashoka University has been quoted as saying that since there is, so far, no evidence for the Delta Plus variant in community circulation anywhere in the world, there is no need to panic.
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Also, Anurag Agarwal, Director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) has stated that so far there is no evidence that the Delta Plus variant has anything to do with the possibility of a ‘third wave’ of COVID19 in India.
“My institute has sequenced more than 3,500 samples from Maharashtra in the month of June, covering samples from April and May. We can see that these (Delta Plus variants) are very much there. But these would constitute less than one per cent,” he was quoted as saying.
“Even in areas where the numbers are high, they are not ‘very high’. Things look stable,” Agarwal added.
Meanwhile, in a bid to contain the outbreak of the Delta Plus variant, Maharashtra is likely to impose restrictions across the state.
At present the data available with the virologists is not enough to assess the effectiveness of the COVID19 vaccines against the Delta Plus variant.
The Indian government, for now, isn’t planning to bring about a change in its vaccination policy due to the Delta Plus variant.
“You have to understand that the public health response against any variant is standardised,” the Health Secretary added in his press conference.
It is reported that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV) are about to launch a study to probe the effectiveness of the COVID19 vaccines in India — Covishield and Covaxin, against the Delta Plus variant.
“The newly emerged Delta Plus variant has possibly increased transmissibility, higher binding capacity to the lung cells and resistance to monoclonal antibody treatment,” Pragya Yadav, head of the NIV’s Maximum Containment Facility was quoted as saying.
“Looking at this scenario, Delta Plus variant could be a concern, and a high watch should be undertaken and containment of affected zone should be done reduce the transmission,” she added.
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Meanwhile, Alexander Gintsburg, head of Moscow-based Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which has produced the Sputnik V vaccine in Russia, stated on June 22 that its vaccine is effective against all known variants of COVID19.
“Antibodies developed after vaccination with Sputnik V protect from all variants of COVID known today, starting from the UK variant to the so-called Delta variant, first detected in India,” Gintsburg said.