COVID Delta Plus variant poses new challenge to India

NEW DELHI: The emergence of the Delta and Delta Plus variants has once again put India in a state of high alert.
Two weeks after the Indian government declared the COVID-19 variant Delta Plus one of concern, health experts say the mutation, also known as AY.1 or B.1.617.2.1, has an extra mutation in the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and poses a new challenge for the country, even with nationwide mass vaccination underway.
The first case of Delta Plus was found in India on June 11.
Initially, the Delta Plus variant was declared by India’s health ministry as a variant of interest; however, later on, it was classified as a variant of concern for its characteristics of increased transmissibility, stronger binding to the receptors of lung cells and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
While the Delta variant had largely been blamed for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, the new, more virulent “plus version” variant is being feared ahead of a potential third wave.
Studies have found it can replicate faster, spread more easily, and bind more strongly to lung cell receptors, according to Sunit K. Singh, professor of molecular immunology at the Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University.
“Also, in a pre-print study yet to be peer-reviewed, Delhi researchers found the variant caused three-quarters of ‘breakthrough infections’ in the city.
These are infections in people who’ve been vaccinated,” Singh wrote in an article, noting that 76 percent of these “breakthrough infections” carried the Delta variant.
Shahid Jameel, India’s top virologist and a former member of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia, also expressed concerns regarding the Delta Plus variant, saying that the new mutant may be capable of dodging immunities, both from COVID-19 vaccine as well as from earlier infections.
“If this was any mutation at random, we would not be worried so much,” Jameel said. “Since this mutation has come up in something that was already a variant of concern, it is logical to call it a variant of concern.”
Jameel added at present there was no data available to comment on how severe the Delta Plus variant could be.
“Given the limited number of cases so far in the country (of Delta Plus), as of now the new variant does not seem to be a major cause for worry,” said Anant Bhan, a New Delhi-based public health expert.
Bhan suggested tracking its spread while maintaining public health precautions and enhancing vaccination coverage. – Agencies