Scientists isolate Delta Plus in lab, tests on jabs on

Scientists isolate Delta Plus Covid-19 variant in lab, tests on vaccines under way

Scientists analysing the strain said it was too early to press the panic button

While there are 49 cases in India so far, the maximum number of the latest variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been reported from Maharashtra. Credit: iStockPhoto

Within a week’s time, Indian scientists may be able to find out whether the three Covid-19 vaccines currently available in India would work against the Delta Plus variant of the novel coronavirus variant that has been found in 11 states, after two reported deaths triggered by it.

While there are 49 cases in India so far, the maximum number of the latest variant of SARS-CoV-2 has been reported from Maharashtra (21) followed by Tamil Nadu (9), Madhya Pradesh (7) and Kerala (3). In Maharashtra, the maximum cases are in Ratnagiri and Jalgaon districts.

Other states and union territories that reported such variants are Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir.

Following the death of an 80-year-old woman due to the Delta Plus variant in Ratnagiri district, the Maharashtra government on Friday announced a heightened level of restriction in the state and indicated imposing stricter norms in the days to come. There were also three such deaths in Madhya Pradesh.

But scientists analysing the strain said it was too early to press the panic button as the variant needs to be watched at least for the next one month before deriving any conclusion on its virulence and transmission behaviour.

Also Read | Maharashtra tightens curbs after first death from Delta Plus Covid-19 variant reported

“We will have to see whether there will be 400 cases of Delta Plus over the next one month or 4,000 cases. At the moment, it's not a major cause of worry. We just have to be cautious,” Sudhanshu Vrati, executive director at the Regional Centre of Biotechnology and a member of the government advisory panel on Covid genome sequencing told DH.

Multiple INSACOG laboratories are in the process of isolating and analysing the new strain and its vulnerability against the vaccines.

"Very recently we have cultured the virus in the laboratory. Now we are testing whether the vaccines are effective. We should be having the results in the next 7-10 days,” Balram Bhargava, director-general of Indian Council of Medical Research said here on Thursday.

“The coming together of a key mutation in the Beta VOC (variant of concern) with the Delta VOC should be a cause for concern but not panic. We need to better understand whether the effects of the mutations are neutral, additive or bigger than the sum of parts,” said another scientist.

In Kerala, which reported three such cases, health department nodal officer Amar Fettle said the Delta Plus variant remained as a variant of interest only and not of concern. While 150 virus genomes are sequenced each month, the state will now send more samples for sequencing.

In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, officials said 1,159 samples were sent to the Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine, Bengaluru for genomic sequencing. Of this, the Delta variant was reported in 72% cases and Alpha variant in 8.4% of samples. Nine samples returned positive for the Delta plus variant. Andhra Pradesh’s first Delta Plus case was reported on Friday from Tirupati.

West Bengal didn’t report the variant so far and the state’s Director of Health Services Ajay Chakraborty refused to speak on the mutated strain. But Amitabha Nandi, former director of the School of Tropical Medicine told DH, “Since West Bengal was hit in the first and second wave, I think the Delta Plus variant will also affect it though it is difficult to make predictions.”

(With inputs from Mrityunjay Bose, ETB Sivapriyan, Arjun Raghunath, Prasad Nichenametla, Soumya Das and Zulfikar Majid)

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