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The past year has been anything but monotonous with several natural calamities like floods, wildfires, etc. However, the biggest ravager of all has been the SARS-CoV-2 virus or more popularly known as the Coronavirus or COVID-19. As the global lockdowns began to ease up with the initial flattening of the curve in the 3rd quarter of 2020, a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 known as the Delta Variant emerged.
Variants of the SARS-CoV-2
This new variant has been responsible for the disastrous second wave of COVID-19. The healthcare system of India battled long and hard along with the government’s support in the form of widespread vaccination drives. However, by the end of May 2021, a new variant known as the Delta Plus Variant has been observed by scientists and doctors.
What Is The Delta Plus Variant?
The variant known as the AY.1 or B.1.617.2.1 is a mutation of the Delta Variant (B.1.617.2) which was responsible for the massacre caused by the second wave in India. This variant is characterized by the mutation of the spike protein known as K417N (from the Beta variant) and this has resulted in this new virus being significantly undeterred by monoclonal antibody response treatments.
How Dangerous Is The New Variant?
Apart from this, the new variant has been observed to be far more contagious and easily transmissible than the previous Alpha and Delta variants of the virus. Moreover, doctors have also noticed that this new variant demonstrates a much stronger binding with the receptor cells of the lungs, making it harder to eliminate through different forms of investigational treatment.
How Far Has It Affected Indians?
Currently, this new variant has been detected in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Kerala. Experts have sampled data from these states and have come to know that this new variant is not new and that it had been present in certain regions of India for the last two months. Only recently, have the cases being affected by this new variant increased, bringing it to the public eye.
The Government’s Stand
The Indian Government has labelled this variant as a “Variant of Concern” (VoC) because it has the potential to bring a catastrophic third wave which could collapse the already overburdened health infrastructure. However, India is not alone in this fight for public health, the presence of this new variant has been recorded in other countries like the UK, the USA, Canada, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Russia, Nepal, and Turkey.
Does This Variant Evade the Vaccine?
Virologists are currently concerned about the new variant because it has an advanced mutation from the Beta variant (B.1.351) and the Delta Variant, making it stronger against the current vaccines. Studies have found that this Beta variant is better able to evade the antibodies developed by the current vaccine. Further research is needed to exactly understand whether this spike protein variation in the virus renders the vaccines useless or not.
What Is The Level of Risk?
On the other hand, some scientists believe that, since the vaccines have been observed to provide coverage from Alpha and Delta variants, this new variant shouldn’t be a cause of concern. Some of the most prominent virologists and researchers in the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) have stated that there is currently no concrete evidence that this new variant is more contagious than the previous one.
What Precautions Can We Take?
Therefore, the best thing to do is to get vaccinated as soon as possible and continue to observe COVID protocol even after that. Even after being vaccinated, we should always get an RT-PCR or Rapid Antigen test done, if we experience an unusually long fever or any other COVID-related symptoms. With timely measures taken collectively as a nation, we can help prevent a potential third wave.