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Coronavirus Delta Plus variant: Time to worry?

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A new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in some states. The earlier version has been largely blamed for the rapid rise in covid-19 cases during the second wave in India. Can this stronger mutation lead to a third wave? Mint explains.

A new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in some states. The earlier version has been largely blamed for the rapid rise in covid-19 cases during the second wave in India. Can this stronger mutation lead to a third wave? Mint explains.

What is the Delta Plus variant?

Not much is known about this new variant and health experts are worried. It is a version of the prevalent Delta variant which had a huge role to play in the country’s second covid-19 wave. Health authorities here have termed the Delta Plus, or B.1.617.2.1, a variant of concern. However, globally experts have still not shown any confidence in this “concern". The variant is said to be highly transmissible and some fear that it can lead to a third wave in the country. Symptoms for this variant include dry cough, diarrhoea, fever, headache, skin rash, discolouration of fingers and toes, chest pain, and shortness of breath, among others.

Why is it a cause for concern?

Delta Plus has the same mutation that was first seen in the Beta variant in South Africa. It is also a version of its predecessor Delta (first found in India), and therefore has all its characteristics. This combination can make it all the more transmissible. Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia is studying the transmissibility of this variant and is likely to release a genomic surveillance bulletin soon. The health ministry says this variant binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy. There is also no data on how existing treatments or even vaccines will work against this.

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Where has this variant been detected so far?

As of 23 June, 40 samples from three states have been detected with Delta Plus, with Maharashtra reporting a larger share. Delta Plus infections have also been reported from Nepal, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Japan, Russia, Turkey, UK, France, US and Canada. No deaths have been reported among the UK and Indian cases.

Can it really lead to a third wave in India?

The health ministry has warned that regions where the variant has been found “may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact tracing and priority vaccination". According to an ICMR scientist, while the variant alone cannot lead to a third wave, it can be a major factor. Ultimately, the possibility of a third wave depends on how strictly the public follows covid guidelines. We will know more once enough samples have been genome sequenced in India.

What is the Centre doing about it?

The health ministry has advised the chief secretaries of Kerala, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh—the three states where Delta Plus has been detected—to “take up immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters, including preventing crowds and intermingling of people, wide-spread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis". ICMR and the National Institute of Virology are in talks to conduct a study to see if the variant can be neutralized by Covaxin and Covishield.

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