New Delhi: The more transmissible and advanced variant of Covid-19, delta plus or ‘AY.1’, has started to wreck havoc in India as three states – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Kerala have reported new cases of infection with this deadly variant.
21 cases of the delta plus variant have been found in Maharashtra so far, state Health Minister Rajesh Tope said on June 21.
The highest number of cases – nine – were reported in Ratnagiri, followed by seven in Jalgaon, two in Mumbai, and one case each in Palghar, Thane and Sindhudurg districts, Tope told reporters.
Madhya Pradesh Health Minister Prabhuram Choudhary said the state has detected the delta plus variant in five COVID-19 cases.
“So far five cases of the Delta Plus variant (of COVID-19) have been reported in Madhya Pradesh. Four out of five people who got the vaccine are healthy. One has died,” Choudhary told media.
In Kerala, the variant has been detected in samples collected from two Kerala districts- Palakkad and Pathanamthitta, officials told media.
Pathanamthitta district collector Dr Narasimhugari TL Reddy said a four-year-old boy from Kadapra panchayat in the district was found infected with the new Delta-plus variant.
NITI Aayog member said the delta plus variant has so far not been classified as a variant of concern. He said the variant was first observed in Europe in March.
“The present status is that yes, a new variant has been found. This is as of now a Variant of Interest (VoI), not as yet classified a Variant of Concern (VoC). VoC is one in which we have understood that there are adverse consequences to humanity, which could be due to increased transmissibility or virulence. We do not know at this moment this about the Delta Plus variant,” he said.
Notably, delta plus variant is from the B.1.617 lineage. The World Health Organization had earlier this year classified B.1.617.2 (Delta) as a variant of concern, however, Delta Plus hasn’t been flagged as ‘variant of concern’ as of now. But experts believe that the Delta Plus variant can spike the infection rate and bring third wave as it could evade both vaccine and infection immunity.
One of India’s top virologists and former member of the INSACOG, Prof Shahid Jameel fears the Delta Plus variant may be capable of evading both immunities from Covid vaccination as well as immunity generated by earlier infections.
Prof Jameel explained that this is because Delta Plus possesses not only all of the characteristics of the original Delta variant but also a mutation known as K417N, which was discovered in the Beta variant in South Africa.
“It’s well-established that the Beta variant of concern evades vaccines much better than the Alpha variant or even the Delta variant,” he said. This is evidenced by the fact that the South African government had returned a consignment of AstraZeneca vaccines, claiming that it was ineffective against the variant there.
Prof Jameel also stated that there is a reason to believe that Delta Plus is resistant to both antibody and vaccine immunity, as well as treatments that prevent Covid from progressing, such as the new monoclonal antibody treatment marketed in India by Roche and Cipla, which has shown promising preliminary results. This is also how former US President Donald Trump was treated last year.