June 2021, people are standing in front of a vaccination center in Sydney as residents have largely been banned from leaving the city in order to stop a growing outbreak of the highly contagious Delta-Covid-19 variant in other regions.
SAEED KHAN | AFP | Getty Images
The “Delta variant” dominated the headlines after it was discovered in India, where it sparked an extreme spike in Covid-19 cases before spreading around the world.
But now a mutation of this variant has emerged, known as “Delta plus”, which worries global experts.
India has named Delta Plus a “worrying variant” and there are fears that it could potentially be more transferable. In the UK, Public Health England noted in its most recent round-up that routine scanning of Covid cases in the country (where the Delta variant is now responsible for the bulk of new infections) found nearly 40 cases of the newer variant causing the spike- Protein mutation K417N, ie Delta plus.
It found that by June 16 there were also cases of the Delta Plus variant in the United States (83 cases at the time the report was published last Friday), as well as in Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.
India third wave?
As is common with all viruses, the coronavirus has mutated repeatedly since its appearance in China at the end of 2019. As the pandemic progressed, a handful of variants have emerged that have altered the communicability, risk profile, and even symptoms of the virus.
Read more: The rapidly spreading Delta Covid variant could have different symptoms, experts say
Several of these varieties, such as the “Alpha” variety (formerly known as the “Kent” or “British” variety) and then the Delta variety, have become dominant varieties worldwide, hence the attention to Delta Plus.
The Indian Ministry of Health reportedly said on Wednesday that it had found around 40 cases of the Delta Plus variant with the K417N mutation. The ministry released a statement Tuesday saying that INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories that are sequencing the virus in India during the pandemic, had told it that the Delta Plus variant had three properties of concern.
These are: increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors on lung cells, and the potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response (which could reduce the effectiveness of life-saving monoclonal antibody therapy in some hospitalized Covid patients).
The Indian Ministry of Health said it had alerted three states (Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh) after the Delta Plus variant was discovered in genome-sequenced samples from these areas.
The discovery of a variation on the Delta variant, largely blamed for India’s catastrophic second wave of cases, has raised fears that India is ill-prepared for a possible third wave. But some experts call for calm.
DR. Chandrakant Lahariya, A doctor, epidemiologist and vaccine and health systems expert based in New Delhi told CNBC on Thursday that while the government should remain vigilant on the progress of the variant, there is “no need to panic”.
“Epidemiologically, I have no reason to believe that ‘Delta plus’ is changing the current situation to accelerate or trigger the third wave,” he told CNBC via email.
“If we stick to the evidence currently available, Delta plus is not very different from the Delta variant. It’s the same Delta variant with an additional mutation. The only clinical difference we know of so far is that Delta plus some resistance to monoclonal antibody combination therapy. And that’s not much of a difference since the therapy itself is under investigation and few are suitable for this treatment. “
He advised the public to follow the Covid restrictions and get vaccinated as soon as possible. An analysis published last week by Public Health England showed that two doses of the Pfizer BioNTech or Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalizations from the Delta variant.
The WHO has announced that it will be following the latest reports on a “Delta Plus” variant. “An additional mutation … has been identified,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical director for Covid-19, at a briefing last week.
“In some of the Delta variants, we saw one less mutation or one deletion instead of an additional one, so let’s look at everything.”