The Indian government on Tuesday classified Delta Plus, the new mutant version of Delta variant of Covid-19, as a variant of concern.
India’s health ministry said that the states were alerted about the Delta plus variant on the basis of recent findings of the INSACOG - a consortium of 28 government laboratories across India tasked with the genome sequencing of Covid-19.
The government said the Delta plus variant has characteristics such as “increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.”
The ministry said that the Union Health Secretary has communicated to these three states this 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.”
In the UK, Public Health England confirmed it had detected 169 cases of the Delta plus strain.
Delta plus is a sub-lineage of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India. Early data shows that Delta plus variant, also referred to as “Nepal variant” as it was first discovered in the Himalayan country, allows the coronavirus to better resist antibody therapy treatments. This is because it includes the K417N mutation - first found in the Beta variant that emerged in South Africa.
India’s health ministry has advised the three states that the public health response measures, “while broadly remaining the same as have been implemented by them earlier, have to become more focused and effective.”
It also said the Chief Secretaries of the three states have been advised to take up “immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters (as identified by INSACOG) including preventing crowds and intermingling of people, widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis.”
Health experts are worried that Delta Plus could trigger another wave of coronavirus infections in India.
"The mutation itself may not lead to a third wave in India - that also depends on Covid-appropriate behaviour, but it could be one of the reasons," said Tarun Bhatnagar, a scientist with the state-run Indian Council for Medical Research.
Meanwhile Dr Arvinder Singh Soin of Medanta Hospital in Gurugram, India, tweeted: “Delta Plus - A variant of concern. More transmissible, could even escape vaccines. We will continue to learn more about it. For now, remember that new variant or old, Covid-appropriate behaviour stays the same.”
Additional reporting by agencies