Delta Plus A ‘Variant of Concern’

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By Sushil Silvano, Our Special Correspondent, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO:

The deadly Delta Plus variant of Covid-19 has already struck in India. It has been found in 8 states: Maharashtra, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu, and Karnataka.

With just 40 cases diagnosed pan-India, the Indian government has upgraded the Covid Delta Plus variant from a “Virus of Interest” (VoI) to a “Virus of Concern” (VoC).

According to preliminary virological projections, the Delta Plus variant might drive India’s impending Third Wave.

The India-detected, super transmissible Delta variant –now present in 92 countries – had similar small beginnings.

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At that time, however, the government had talked down concerns about it until it raked through the UK and the US, becoming the dominant strain as the fastest, fittest variant yet.

Marked as a vaccine-escape mutation, the Delta Plus variant – B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1 strain – is reportedly more transmissible and vaccine-resistant.

Aside from India, the Delta Plus variant has also been detected in 10 other countries: the US, the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China, and Russia.

This is just the beginning, according to experts.

IIT Kanpur Professors Rajesh Ranjan and Mahendra Verma along with their team have predicted three scenarios for the dreaded third wave of COVID-19 pandemic in India. The predictions have been made using the SIR Covid-19 Prediction Model of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur.

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While speaking of the waning of the second wave, the professors have addressed the anxiety among policymakers and the public about the third wave.

The prediction model has assumed that the country will be completely unlocked by 15 July. The model has also not considered the vaccination drive, which may further decrease the peak significantly. The following are the likely scenarios for the third wave in India:

Scenario 1 (Back-to-Normal): Third-wave will peak in October but it will be a lower peak height than the second wave.

Scenario 2 (Normal with virus mutations): The peak could be higher than the second one and may appear early (September).

Scenario 3 (Stricter interventions): The peak of the third wave could be delayed until late October with strict social distancing. Here, the peak will be lower than the second wave.

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The institute has also stated that a revised model that considers the vaccination drive and includes more recent data on the same is being worked out.

Meanwhile, Dr. A Marthanda Pillai, Director, Global Institute of Public Health, opines that the wave theory is quite cloudy as it is difficult to predict the virus behavior. However, it is prudent to be prepared. The reduction in infection rate in India is a positive sign, but that should not be a reason to slacken our vigil. If the numbers suddenly increase, no healthcare system in the world can deal with a large number of people needing intensive care at the same time. We need to use this time to strengthen our healthcare facilities, ensure medicine, oxygen, and medical equipment supply.

The following measures are required to be continued and intensified to win the war against the pandemic:

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A. Increase the rate of vaccination as quickly as possible.

B. Increase testing, tracking, and tracing and isolate those who are infected, quarantine those who had contact with positive cases, and take all initiative to break the chain.

C. Limit social mixing, which includes ensuring physical distance, travel restrictions, school, and office closure, restricting public gathering, etc.

D. It is also necessary to incentivize the medical fraternity by enhancing the confidence of the clinical staff and primary healthcare workers who are constantly striving to achieve the best results and carrying the extra workload.

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Ultimately, the key to control or prevent another wave to happen in India is with the public. We know that it is human behavior that causes such waves. These waves are not coming to us, but rather they are originating from us because we do not listen to the advice about protecting ourselves.

Disease transmission can be halted by changes in human behavior. All sections of the population need to be educated and supported for maintaining Covid-19 appropriate behavior. We will not see a devastating third wave if we collectively act responsibly.

What the Delta variant could mean for Covid-19 in the US?

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According to CNN Health, the coronavirus variant first spotted in India, is poised to become the dominant one in the United States, where infectious disease modelers say it could cause a “resurgence” of Covid-19 later this year.

And it may already account for 1 in every 5 infections nationwide, experts say.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN last week she anticipates Delta will become “the predominant variant in the months ahead.”

And that could be a few weeks — not months — away, according to William Lee, vice president of science at Helix, a company whose Covid-19 tests have helped track the number of variants.

In the two weeks leading up to June 5, CDC estimates that Delta was responsible for nearly 10% of US infections. And now Lee says it likely accounts for roughly a fifth of cases.

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“It’s so transmissible that, unless your vaccination rates are high enough, you will still have outbreaks,” Lee said.

Infectious disease modelers are showing how a variant like Delta could make a Covid-19 comeback later this year.

Faced with a more transmissible variant, “it looks like we do see a resurgence late in the summer or the early fall,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Lessler has been working with contributors from a dozen other institutions on the Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub to forecast the pandemic.

According to the model, getting 86% of eligible Americans vaccinated — meaning, those 12 and up — could avert more than 10,000 cumulative deaths by late November.

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The Delta variant of Covid-19, identified in at least 85 countries of the world, is the ” most transmissible” of the variants identified so far and is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations.

Meanwhile, talking to newsmen on June 25 at WHO headquarters in Geneva, the WHO chief, Tedros  Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “I know that globally there is currently a lot of concern about the Delta variant, and the WHO is concerned about it too.”

The Delta variant was first identified in India.

He noted with concern that as some countries ease public health and social measures, “we are starting to see increases in transmission around the world.

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“More cases mean more hospitalizations, further stretching health workers and health systems, which increases the risk of death,” he warned.

While pointing out that new COVID-19 variants are expected and will continue to be reported, “that’s what viruses do, they evolve – but we can prevent the emergence of variants by preventing transmission.”

In a strong warning, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead at the WHO, who was also present at the WHO chief’s press conference, said the Delta variant is a “dangerous” virus and is more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was itself extremely transmissible across Europe and any country that is entered.

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“The Delta variant is even more transmissible,” she said, adding that the WHO is seeing trajectories of incidents that are almost “vertical” in several countries around the world.

Many European countries are witnessing a decline in cases but there are a lot of events happening across the region, including large sporting or religious events “or even backyard barbecues.”

“All of these actions have consequences and the Delta variant is spreading readily among people who are unvaccinated,” Kerkhove said.

While some countries have high percentages of people who are vaccinated, yet the entire population of those nations is not yet vaccinated and many people have not received their second dose or the full course of dose of the COVID-19 vaccines, she said.

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Kerkhove underlined that COVID-19 vaccines are “incredibly effective” at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant.

“The virus will continue to evolve. And right now our public health and social measures work, our vaccines work,” the diagnostics work, and the therapeutics work. “But there may be a time where this virus evolves and these countermeasures don’t. So we need some kind of movement to pull ourselves together to drive transmission down and keep it down,” she said.

Kerkhove warned that events that are large scale and see huge crowds “will have consequences. We are already starting to see some consequences of these events with increasing transmission again. The Delta variant will make that epidemic curve exponential,” she warned.

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She urged people to keep themselves safe and make decisions individually about what they need to do every day. “There’s a lot that all of us want to be doing, but there’s not a lot that we need to be doing right now,” she said.

“It’s not for the next couple of months… that we need to be thinking about this. We need to be thinking about it right now, because every single decision that we make, leaders make has consequences, good and bad.”

The WHO chief said it’s “quite simple” that more transmission means more variants and less transmission means fewer variants.

“That makes it even more urgent that we use all the tools at our disposal to prevent transmission: the tailored and consistent use of public health and social measures, in combination with equitable vaccination,” Ghebreyesus said.

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He said this is the reason why WHO has been saying for at least a year that vaccines must be distributed equitably, to protect health workers and the most vulnerable.

This week, WHO said that the Delta variant, the significantly more transmissible variant of COVID-19, continues to be detected in new countries worldwide.

The COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update released on June 22 by WHO said that globally, the variant Alpha has been reported in 170 countries, territories, or areas, Beta in 119 countries, Gamma in 71 countries, and Delta in 85 countries.

“Delta, now reported in 85 countries globally, continues to be reported in new countries across all WHO Regions, 11 of which were newly reported in the past two weeks,” the update said.

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WHO said the four current Variants of Concern being monitored closely – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta – are widespread and have been detected in all WHO regions.

“The Delta variant is significantly more transmissible than Alpha variant, and is expected to become a dominant lineage if current trends continue.”

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Compiled and Curated By Humra Kidwai

 

Sushil Silvano

Mr. Sushil Silvano, our special correspondent is a celebrated veteran Journalist and Author and is currently based in Mumbai, India. He is the National Secretary of the Indian Journalists Union, an affiliate of the "International Federation of Journalists". He strongly believes in developing awareness through the power of Media and has chaired the Mumbai Chapter of Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) and is currently the Chairman of the Lucknow Chapter of PRCI.

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