As India emerges from the deadly second wave of Covid, the Delta plus variant, a mutant version of the Delta strain first detected in India, has been found in 22 cases across three states including Maharashtra, the government said today. Experts in Maharashtra fear the new variant could potentially trigger a third wave.
Delta Plus cases have been found in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri and Jalgaon, parts of Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.
“The Centre has sent an advisory to these states about their public health response. We don’t want this small number to take a bigger form,” said VK Paul, the head of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration.
Maharashtra, which has reported most of these Delta Plus cases, is already preparing for a third wave, which some experts warn could come earlier than originally predicted.
The state is collecting data like travel history and vaccination status of those who have reported this version of the virus.
The worry stems from the fact that very little is known about this strain, which, according to Dr Paul, is now in nine countries – US, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Russia and China besides India.
“It is worrisome because we do not know enough about how it is going to behave from here. In the variants that we have seen, there have been some very different scenarios that have presented themselves,” said Om Shrivastava, a member of the Maharashtra Task Force on Covid.
“We know that the delta wave in other parts of the world is very infectious and it spreads very rapidly and it can affect a multitude of people within a very short period of time,” said Dr Shrivastava, who heads the Infectious Diseases unit at Jaslok Hospital.
Maharashtra carried out genome sequencing of 100 samples from each district. “Since May 15, 7,500 samples have been taken in which about 21 cases of delta plus have been found,” said Rajesh Tope, Maharashtra Health Minister.
Like the Delta strain, which has now spread to 80 countries, the Delta Plus is considered highly infectious and fast-spreading.
It may also show resistance to existing treatment protocol for Covid. There are concerns over whether current vaccines will be effective against the Delta Plus.
The government said while the two vaccines being used in India, Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, are effective against the Delta variant, data on how they work on the Delta Plus would be shared later.
“We will share more information with you shortly,” said Rajesh Bhushan, Union Health Secretary.
But health experts say the prevalence of this variant is currently low.
“Right now it is a variant of interest, not variant of concern,” said Dr Bhushan.