Delta is 40-60% more transmissible than original strain: Expert panel

  • The government has warned that covid-19 cases in India may rise again in case a new and more infectious variant emerges

Neetu Chandra Sharma
First Published19 Jul 2021
The B.1.617.2, a variant of covid-19 is known as the Delta variant.
The B.1.617.2, a variant of covid-19 is known as the Delta variant.(Reuters)

New Delhi: The delta mutant of coronavirus is 40-60% more transmissible than the original strain and currently the reason for maximum infections in the country, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) has found. The government has also warned that covid-19 cases in India may rise again in case a new and more infectious variant emerges.

“B.1.617.2, a variant of covid-19 is known as the Delta variant. It was first identified in October 2020 in India, and was primarily responsible for the second wave in the country, currently accounting for over 80% of new Covid-19 cases. It emerged in Maharashtra and travelled northwards along the western states of the country before entering the central and the eastern states,” said N.K. Arora, co-chair, INSACOG.

Arora explained that it has mutations in its spike protein, which helps it bind to the ACE2 receptors present on the surface of the cells more firmly, making it more transmissible and capable of evading the body’s immunity. It is around 40-60% more transmissible than its predecessor (Alpha variant) and has already spread to more than 80 countries, including the UK, the US, Singapore, said Arora.

There are studies that show there are some mutations in this variant that promote syncytium formation. Besides, on invading a human cell, it replicates faster. It leads to a strong inflammatory response in organs like the lungs. However, it is difficult to say that disease due to delta variant is more severe. The age profile and the deaths during the second wave in India were quite similar to that seen during the first wave, the government said.

The Delta plus variant—AY.1 and AY.2—has so far been detected in 55-60 cases across 11 states, including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Madhya Pradesh. AY.1 is also found in countries like Nepal, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Japan but AY.2 is less prevalent. The variant is still being studied for its transmissibility, virulence, and vaccines escape characteristics. Arora said that current vaccines are effective against the Delta variant as per the studies undertaken by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on the issue.

According to the union health ministry data, India reported 38,164 daily new cases in the last 24 hours. India’s active caseload today stands at 4,21,665 and active cases constitute 1.35% of the country's total positive cases. The weekly positivity rate is currently at 2.08% while the daily positivity rate was at 2.61% on Monday.

“Though there is a significant dip in the number of cases in most parts of the country, some regions are witnessing a high-test positivity rate (TPR) particularly in the north-eastern parts of the country and several districts in the southern states; most of these cases could be due to the Delta variant,” said Arora.

“A virus begins infecting a part of the population, which is most susceptible and also exposed to the infection. It diminishes after it successfully infects a large proportion of the population and strikes back when the immunity developed in the people post-natural infection fades. The cases may go up if a new, more infectious variant comes. In other words, next wave will be driven by a virus variant to which significant proportion of population is susceptible,” he said.

Arora said the second wave is still around and any future waves will be controlled and delayed if more and more people get vaccinated and covid-appropriate behaviour is followed.

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