Health officials in England have tracked 41 cases of the Delta K417N variant of COVID-19, an even more transmissible strain of the mutation first identified in India, and said on Wednesday that extra measures have been in place for two weeks to investigate the new Delta variation causing concern in parts of India. Public Health England (PHE) said K417N, which is being dubbed as Delta plus in some quarters, is an additional “spike mutation of interest” which is seen in the variant first detected in South Africa, called the Beta variant, and is now seen in a “small number” of Delta variant genomes in the UK.
Although genomic surveillance internationally is limited, there is evidence that there are at least two separate clades (or branches) of Delta containing K417N; one of which is large and internationally distributed, now named AY.1. “PHE put additional control measures in place two weeks ago where cases of Delta variant with K417N (AY.1) are detected including enhanced contact tracing, rapid testing and isolation, said Dr Andrew Lee, COVID Incident Director at Public Health England.
In total, 41 cases in total have been identified in England. Active investigation of cases and clusters will ensure our public health response remains fast and proportionate. We are continuing investigations to better understand the significance of K417N in addition to Delta, he said, adding that the team will continue to closely monitor and assess all changes in the virus as they naturally emerge. The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers the strain part of the B1.617.2 Delta variant and PHE is keen to highlight that there is no Plus label attached to it and that it remains in a small number of clusters of the country.
There is no evidence that Delta with K417N makes the virus any more severe or reduces vaccine effectiveness compared to Delta, PHE said. This variant is present in multiple countries including a small number of cases in the UK. As of June 16, 41 confirmed cases have been detected in England. The first cases were sequenced on 26 April, said PHE, which will report the latest COVID-19 weekly data on Friday.
According to experts, Delta with K417N can be detected by genotyping assay, which means that rapid case identification and response activities can be undertaken. Contacts of confirmed cases are traced and offered testing. In addition, a number of cases were identified in areas where enhanced response measures had already been initiated prior to detection of the additional mutation, which officials believe will help to further break the links of transmission and reduce spread.
The virus will continue to naturally evolve as it spreads globally, but the UK will continue to use its excellent genomics, epidemiology and virology capacity to monitor all variants to ensure that public health interventions are effective and proportionate, PHE said. The latest reports come as the Delta variant remains the dominant COVID-19 variant in the UK, accounting for most of the coronavirus infections in the country and forcing a month-long delay to the lifting of all lockdown restrictions that was planned this week. A total of 22 cases of the Delta plus variant of the coronavirus have been detected in India, with 16 of them being reported from Maharashtra and the remaining from Madhya Pradesh and Kerala, the Indian government said on Tuesday.
India is among the nine countries where the Delta plus mutation has been found so far, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in New Delhi, underlining that it is currently a “variant of interest” and has not yet been classified as a “variant of concern”.Besides India, the Delta plus variant has been found in the US, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China and Russia.