23 Jun 2021: Delta Plus now 'Variant of Concern,' over 40 cases reported
AY.1 or Delta Plus, a new variant of the coronavirus, has been categorized as a "Variant of Concern" by the Indian government, reports said, leveling up from its previous status as a "Variant of Interest." More than 40 cases of the new strain have been detected in the country and the government has issued a warning to three states with high prevalence.
Meaning: What does this new tag mean?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are three categories of coronavirus variants, including "Variant of High Consequence". A Variant of Concern is one that shows some of the following traits: 1) An increase in transmissibility. 2) An increase in virulence. 3) Detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology. 4) A reduction in the effectiveness of available public health measures, diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics.
Cases: Which states have reported cases?
More than 40 cases of Delta Plus have been identified in India through genome sequencing. Of them, 21 are from Maharashtra, six from Madhya Pradesh, three from Kerala, three from Tamil Nadu, two from Karnataka, and one each from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Jammu, according to sources cited by NDTV. Most cases have been found in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri and Jalgaon districts.
Advisory: Indian government issues advisory to 3 states
On Tuesday, the central government issued an advisory to Maharashtra, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh in this regard. Officials in these states have been asked to start immediate measures such as preventing gatherings; conduct widespread testing; rapid tracing; and faster vaccinations. "We don't want this small number to take a bigger form," Dr. Vinod Kumar Paul told reporters yesterday.
Concerns: What is the Delta Plus variant?
The new variant was formed through an additional mutation (K417N) to the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), which drove India's deadly second wave of the pandemic. INSACOG, a consortium involved in genome sequencing in India, said this variant has three dangerous characteristics - increased transmissibility, stronger binding in receptors of lung cells, and potential resistance to the monoclonal antibody treatment.
Fact: Which all countries have reported cases?
Other than India, cases of Delta Plus have been found in nine countries across the world. They are the United States, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China, and Russia.
Third wave link: Is there a link between this variant and third wave?
The Delta Plus variant could possibly evade immunity generated from vaccination as well as prior COVID-19 infection, said Prof. Shahid Jameel, a top virologist and a former member of the Indian government's Consortium on Genomics. However, there is no evidence yet to show any link between the new variant and a possible third wave of the pandemic in India, according to experts.
Situation: India's coronavirus situation
India had faced the world's worst coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, witnessing lakhs of cases and thousands of fatalities daily. Daily cases in India had peaked at 4,14,000 just last month. The situation has since improved. In the past 24 hours, the country reported 50,848 new cases and 1,358 deaths. Nearly 18% of the Indian population has been partially vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Fact: Delta variant 'greatest threat' to America's pandemic fight: Dr. Fauci
On a related note, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top pandemic expert in the US, said the Delta variant is currently the greatest threat to US's fight against the disease. "The transmissibility is unquestionably greater," he noted, adding, "It is associated with an increased disease severity."
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Also see: Delta Plus: All about the new COVID-19 variant
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