New covid-19 variant 'Delta plus' identified; Should India be worried?

Agencies
June 14, 2021

The highly transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has mutated further to form the ‘Delta plus’ or ‘AY.1’ variant but there is no immediate cause for concern in India as its incidence in the country is still low, scientists said.

The new Delta plus variant has been formed due to a mutation in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant, first identified in India and one of the drivers of the deadly second wave. Though there is no indication yet of the severity of the disease due to the new variant, Delta plus is resistant to the monoclonal antibody cocktail treatment for Covid-19 recently authorised in India.

“One of the emerging variants is B.1.617.2.1 also known as AY.1 characterized by the acquisition of K417N mutation,” Vinod Scaria, clinician and scientist at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), tweeted on Sunday.  

The mutation, he said, is in the spike protein of SARS-COV-2, which helps the virus enter and infect the human cells.  

According to Public Health England, 63 genomes of Delta (B.1.617.2) with the new K417N mutation have been identified so far on the global science initiative GISAID.  

In its latest report on coronavirus variants, updated till last Friday, the health agency said Delta plus was present in six genomes from India as of June 7.  

“The variant frequency for K417N is not much in India at this point in time. The sequences are mostly from Europe, Asia and America,” Scaria wrote on Twitter.  

The earliest sequence of this genome was found in Europe in late March this year.  

Noting that the travel histories for the variant are not readily available to make assumptions, Scaria said an important point to consider regarding K417N is the “evidence suggesting resistance to monoclonal antibodies Casirivimab and Imdevimab”.

This cocktail recently received emergency-use authorization in the country from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. Drug majors Roche India and Ciplas have priced the antibody cocktail at a steep Rs 59,750 per dose.  

Similar to antibodies which are proteins that the body naturally produces to defend itself against the disease, monoclonal antibodies are artificially created in a lab and tailor-made to fight the disease they treat.  

Casirivimab and Imdevimab are monoclonal antibodies that are specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, and designed to block the virus' attachment and entry into human cells.  

Scaria also indicated the mutation may be associated with the ability to escape the immune response against the virus.

Allaying fears, immunologist Vineeta Bal noted that while there may be some setback in the use of commercial antibody cocktail due to the new variant, resistance to the therapy is not an indication of higher virulence or severity of a disease.  

“How transmissible this new variant is will be a crucial factor to determine its rapid spread or otherwise,” Bal, guest faculty at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, told PTI.  

She also noted that the quality and quantity of neutralising antibodies, responsible for defending cells from pathogens, generated in the individual infected with the new variant is unlikely to be affected because of the mutation.  

“Thus in individuals catching infection with the new variant, it may not be a matter worth worrying,” she added. 

Pulmonologist and medical researcher Anurag Agrawal concurred.  

“There is no cause of concern due to the new variant in India as of now,” Agrawal, the director of CSIR-IGIB, told PTI.

The scientist said the blood plasma from many fully vaccinated individuals will have to be tested against this variant to determine whether it shows any significant immune escape.  As the Delta variant continues to evolve and acquire new mutations, there is a lot of interest in understanding its evolution. He said SARS-CoV-2 has a nearly constant rate of acquiring genetic variants, and each variant has acquired additional variants in a stepwise fashion.

“Understanding this continued evolution is of great importance in mapping the evolutionary landscape of emerging variants. Largely the virus has tried to optimise for transmission and immune escape by step-wise acquisition of new mutations,” he added 

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October 17,2021

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Makkah, Oct 17: The Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia operated at full capacity Sunday, with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Workers removed floor markings that guide people to social distance in and around the Grand Mosque, which is built around the Ka’aba, the black cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

"This is in line with the decision to ease precautionary measures and to allow pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque at full capacity," reported the official Saudi Press Agency.

Pictures and footage on Sunday morning showed people praying side by side, making straight rows of worshippers that are formations revered in performing Muslim prayers, for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold last year.

While social distancing measures were lifted, the authorities said visitors must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus and must continue to wear masks on mosque grounds.

Also, the Ka’aba remained cordoned off and out of reach.

Saudi Arabia announced in August it will begin accepting vaccinated foreigners wanting to make the umrah pilgrimage.

The umrah can be undertaken at any time and usually draws millions from around the globe, as does the annual hajj, which abled-bodied Muslims who have the means must perform at least once in their lifetime.

In July, only around 60,000 inoculated residents were allowed to take part in a vastly scaled-down form of the annual hajj.

The Covid-19 pandemic hugely disrupted both Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom that rake in a combined $12 billion annually.

Hosting the pilgrimages is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, for whom the custodianship of Islam's holiest sites is their most powerful source of political legitimacy.

The once-reclusive kingdom began issuing tourist visas permitting foreign visitors to undertake more than just the pilgrimages for the first time in 2019 as part of an ambitious push to revamp its global image and diversify income.

Between September 2019 and March 2020, it issued 400,000 of them -- only for the pandemic to crush that momentum as borders were closed.

But the kingdom is slowly opening up and has started welcoming vaccinated foreign tourists since August 1.

Saudi Arabia also announced that fully-inoculated sports fans will from Sunday be allowed to attend events at all stadiums and other sports facilities, reported SPA.

It has also been said that masks in most open spaces are no longer mandatory.

Saudi Arabia has registered over 547,000 coronavirus cases and 8,760 deaths.

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October 16,2021

Mangaluru, Oct 16: Two youth lost their lives when their motorbike crashed into a road median last night at Talapady K C Road near Dakshina Kannada-Kasaragod border.

The victims have been identified as K Prajith (23) and Krishna Prasad (25), both residents of Kumble in Kasaragod district.  

It is learnt that they were on their way home after paying a visit to Gokarnanatheshwara Temple in Kudroli Mangaluru. 

While reaching K.C. Road, the rider lost control over the two-wheeler and crashed into the divider. 

A case has been registered at jurisdictional police station and investigations are on.

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October 16,2021

Bengaluru, Oct 16: The House Committee of Karnataka Assembly, chaired by BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekhar, has decided to conduct a survey to identify unauthorised people connected to Christian missionaries, carrying out conversion activities in the state.

On October 13, the House Committee convened a meeting and took the decision after the issue came up for discussion in the state assembly on September 21.

Shekhar had raised the issue and had alleged that as many as 20,000 people including his 72-year-old mother had converted to Christianity in Chitradurga district.

The House Committee wants to decipher the number of authorised and unauthorised people engaged in the activities of Christian missionaries in the state, Shekhar said.

Directions also have been given to authorities in three Yadgir, Chitradurga and Vijayapura districts to check conversion activities, he said.

These districts are the most backward regions of the state and the poor people fall prey to Christian missionaries' allurement tactics, Shekhar said.

The authorities have also been directed to initiate stringent action soon after receiving reports of conversion activity, he said.

The House Committee is finding ways within the parameters of the law to stop converted Dalits availing reservation benefits, Shekhar said.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai government is serious about introducing an anti-conversion bill after studying similar laws implemented in other states including Uttar Pradesh.

The pro-Hindu outfits have been very active in raiding the places of conversions across the state with the help of police.

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