Around 40 cases of the Delta plus variant of the coronavirus have been found in Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, the Union health ministry said on Wednesday. The Delta plus variant, which is a mutation of the Delta variant, has been classified as a “variant of concern”.

“As of now among the samples sequenced (45000+) in India, Delta plus variant – AY.1 – has been observed sporadically in Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, with around 40 cases identified so far and no significant increase in prevalence,” the ministry said in its statement. Besides these states, Karnataka has also recorded its first case of the variant, PTI reported.

The ministry said that although the number of cases of the variant was less, it has advised the states, where it was found, to improve their response by focusing on “surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact tracing and priority vaccination”.

Delta plus is formally known as AY.1 or B.1.617.2.1.

After the Public Health England reported a case of the variant on June 11, retrospective analysis of samples showed that the first occurrence of this lineage was found in a sample collected from Maharashtra on April 5, the statement said.

As of June 18, 205 samples of the variant were detected globally, with the United States and the United Kingdom registering more than half of the known infection, said the health ministry. Besides these countries, the variant has also been found in China, Russia, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland and Nepal.

Karnataka reports first case of Delta plus variant

Karnataka Health Minister K Sudhakar said that the first case of the Delta plus variant in the state was registered in Mysuru, reported PTI. Sudhakar told reporters that the infected patient has been isolated “but he is asymptomatic and none of his primary and secondary contacts have it”.

The minister said that the state government was monitoring the emergence of new variants of Covid-19 and will set up six genome sequencing labs in the state. “Wherever we have suspicion, we are doing genomic sequencing,” he said. “We are doing random checks of 5% of the total samples checked.”

‘Variant doesn’t have sufficient data to be alarmed’

Maharashtra Covid-19 task force member Dr Shashank Joshi said there was not sufficient data available to be alarmed about the Delta plus variant. He, however, advised citizens to “continue our strict Covid-19 appropriate behaviour with double mask, avoid crowds and continue vaccination”.

“Delta plus virulence [severity] unknown, transmission may be more,” he added.

According to a statement by the Union health ministry on June 22, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia has said that the Delta Plus variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.

Monoclonal antibodies are artificial antibodies that mimic the activity of our immune systems to fight off infections, according to The Indian Express. They are produced through a process involving the extraction of specific antibodies from human blood and then cloning them.

Meanwhile, India recorded 50,848 new coronavirus cases, which took the infection tally to 3,00,28,709. India is now only the second country, after the United States, which has 3.35 crore cases, to reach this landmark.

The toll in India rose by 1,358 to 3,90,660. However, experts suspect that the death tally is significantly more than the official figure.