The Centre on Tuesday called the Delta plus strain of the coronavirus as a “variant of concern”, hours after Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and NITI Aayog (Health) member VK Paul said it was only a “variant of interest”, reported The Hindu.
A “variant of concern” has the highest threat perception among other coronavirus variants because of its increased transmissibility, infectivity, or resistance to vaccines. The threat perception for a “variant of interest” is comparatively lower.
On June 14, the World Health Organization had classified the Delta variant as a “variant of concern”. The Delta plus variant, formally known as AY.1 or B.1.617.2.1, is a mutation of the Delta variant. Acknowledging the existence of the Delta plus variant, Paul, chairperson of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 in India, had said on June 15 that it was a “variant of interest”.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Bhushan referred to the Delta plus variant as a “variant of concern.” “Delta plus is in nine countries and as of now is in the category of variant of interest and is not yet in the variant of concern category,” said Bhushan.
Paul also called the Delta plus strain to be a variant of interest “but not yet one of concern”, according to News18. “We have to assess it’s presence through INSACOG [Indian SarsCov2 Genomic Consortia],” he added.
However, in a press statement, the ministry first called it as a “variant of concern”, then issued a correction terming it a “variant of interest” and then again reverted to referring it as “variant of concern”, according to The Hindu.
An unidentified scientist at the Indian SarsCov2 Genomic Consortia, which conducts genome sequencing, told The Hindu that the Delta plus variant was always a “variant of concern” but was wrongly classified as a “variant of interest” by the health ministry.
In its statement in which the variant was called the “variant of concern”, the ministry said it has advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh that the public health response measures have to become more “focused and effective”.
These states have reported cases of the delta plus variant. On Monday, Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope had said that 21 cases of the variant were found in the state. Kerala also recorded three cases of the Delta plus variant on Monday. In Madhya Pradesh, the variant was detected in a woman in Bhopal on June 16.
On Tuesday, Bhushan, however, said: “In India, 16 of the 22 cases of Delta plus variant have been found in Ratnagiri and Jalgaon [both in Mahrashtra] and some cases in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.”
He also said that the delta plus variant has been found in nine countries besides India, reported ANI. These are the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland and Nepal.
The health secretary also spoke about the Delta variant, informing that it was found in 80 countries, including India. Bhushan said that both vaccines being used in India – Covishield and Covaxin – are effective against the Delta variant. “But to what extent and what’s the proportion of antibodies that they produce, that we would share with you shortly,” he added.
On June 18, WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan had said that the Delta variant is becoming the globally dominant variant.
The Delta variant was responsible for the devastating second wave of the pandemic in India, a government study showed earlier in June. India is still recovering from the aftermath of the second wave, which at its peak saw more than 4 lakh daily cases, and thousands of deaths every day. Several states experienced crippling shortages of oxygen, hospital beds, medical supplies and vaccines, causing citizens to take to social media to ask for help.
The country’s daily cases have now begun to decline. India reported 42,640 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking its overall count of infections since the pandemic broke out in January 2020 to 2,99,77,861. The daily infection count is the lowest in 91 days. The number of active cases stood at 6,62,251. The country’s toll rose by 1,167 to 3,89,302.