21 cases of Delta plus variant detected in Maharashtra: Health minister Rajesh Tope

While there is no cause of concern, experts said, the variant has to be watched out for if it is spreading among the people.

At least 21 samples genome sequenced in Maharashtra are of the Delta plus variant but its proportion is less than one per cent of total Covid-19 positive samples sequenced from the state since May.

While there is no cause of concern, experts said, the variant has to be watched out for if it is spreading among the people.

Health Minister Rajesh Tope said of the 21 cases, nine were found in Ratnagiri, seven in Jalgaon, two in Mumbai and one each in Palghar, Sindhudurg and Thane.

“We have taken detailed information of all these index cases, their travel history, whether they got vaccinated, whether they have been reinfected and their high and low-risk contacts. The contacts will be traced and tested,” Tope said.

Wherever required, officials said, containment zones will be set up or have already been set up. In Ratnagiri, more samples have also been collected to check whether the variant is widespread or scattered.

Under an MoU with Maharashtra, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) has sequenced nearly 7,500 Covid samples from all 36 districts.

The 21 cases which have been detected to be Delta plus variant are mostly limited to western Maharashtra. On June 19, The Indian Express had reported the preliminary findings when seven Delta plus (or AY.1) variants were found, five of them in Ratnagiri.

Dr Anurag Agrawal, the director of CSIR-IGIB, said there is no evidence that this variant is growing rapidly in Maharashtra in terms of the percentage of samples sequenced. “Kappa (B.1.617.1) and Delta (B.1.617.2) are similar variants. Earlier, where there was a huge Delta presence, the Kappa variant was not that strong. Delta and Delta plus variants are also similar. So, we don’t expect Delta plus to take over Delta. But this is something to watch and we are closely monitoring it,” Agrawal explained.

The Delta and Delta plus variants are both immune escaping, meaning they can get past antibody response in the host body. This raises concerns about vaccine efficacy. Tope said studies are underway whether vaccines work on these variants. The minister added that the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and CSIR are handholding Maharashtra’s whole genome sequencing and analysis of existing patterns in its spread.

The few samples CSIR-IGIB found in Maharashtra were in the same family, Agrawal said. “We have not seen multiple cases from different families. Surveillance is ongoing but we are not seeing clusters,” he said, adding that
available data does not indicate any possibility of a third wave within 2-4 weeks in the state.

A K417N mutation in the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) has led to Delta plus (or AY.1 variant). The mutation in spike protein allows the virus to escape the immune system of a person. So far, Delta plus has not been associated with severe infection, although there is limited study. State officials said few of the people who had this variant were mildly symptomatic.

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