SARS-CoV-2 Delta-plus variant has been found in at least seven cases in Maharashtra. The samples have been found from at least three regions– Navi Mumbai, Ratnagiri, and Palghar. More samples have been sent for sequencing the genome to determine whether this variant is scattered or dominant.
What is the Delta-plus variant?
The Delta-plus variant has not been classified as a "variant of concern" yet– it is still classified as a "variant of interest". According to Dr VK Paul, the variant was first discovered in Europe in March. Mutation in the variant Delta (B.1.617.2) has caused the formation of the Delta-plus variant.
The mutation in the spike protein of the virus makes it easy to enter the human host cells. Reportedly, this virus has a better "immune-escaping mechanism". However, researchers have yet to discover more about its virulence, transmissibility, and resistance to monoclonal antibody cocktail treatment.
The cases have been consistently high in Western Maharashtra, especially in Kolhapur, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sangli Satara, and Sindhudurg. For example, Ratnagiri is among the top then districts of Maharashtra concerning the number of cases. It has 6,553 active cases, and its weekly positivity rate was 13.7% till June 10. In contrast to this, the average weekly positivity rate of the entire state was 5.8%. Cases have been declining for the rest of the state.
But why is Ratnagiri affected so much? Dr Sanghamitra Gawde, a civil surgeon in Ratnagiri, said that even though the infected case had no history of travel, the villages where the variants were found have people who often travel abroad.
Resultantly, Ratnagiri has been put at Level-4, with stringent restrictions on movement. The authorities have sealed affected villages, created containment zones, and taken steps for contact tracing.
Other Regions Affected
Palghar and Navi Mumbai reported one Delta-plus variant each. Two of the cases reported in Ratnagiri were even asymptotic. In the case of the Delta variant, entire villages were tested positive in Vidarbha. No similar pattern has been detected in the case of the Delta-plus variant yet.
Abhijeet Bangar, Municipal Commissioner, Navi Mumbai, said, "A few days ago, we sent some samples for genome sequencing to check for Delta-plus. This information is important to immediately plan local containment measures." As of now, they have not received any official communication, according to The Indian Express.
Suggestions by Experts
Maharashtra government had signed an MoU with the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in April. Elaborating on the reason behind this, State Medical Education Secretary Saurabh Vijay said that they realised the significance of constantly monitoring the mutations and their impact on Covid-19 spread. However, he also mentioned that the report which is being made need to be analysed before making any policy changes.
Principal Scientist at CSIR-IGIB, Dr Rajesh Pandey, said they closely monitor the variant through genomic surveillance. Although it is limited now, the variant can escape immune response too.
He further added that people must abide by the rules for the next few weeks due to this reason. Even after vaccination, people need to follow the norms. At the governance level, unlocking can be closely monitored and gradual. Only then can the upcoming surge be contained or, at least, staggered.