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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News Network
July 22,2021

Newsroom, July 22: Thousands of Indians stranded in their home countries unable to return to their jobs in the United Arab Emirates due to covid restrictions and flight ban rushed to buy tickets at unprecedentedly higher rates whenever travel agencies opened booking, albeit briefly. Travellers many countries including India are not allowed to enter the UAE until they spend 14 days quarantining in a third nation.

The UAE introduced the travel restrictions earlier this year to control the spread of the newer variants of covid-19. Since then, the stranded expats have left no stone unturned in their attempts to return to the UAE. 

While some have returned on charter flights by spending a huge amount, some quarantined themselves for 15 days in places as far as Armenia, Uzbekistan, Serbia, Ethiopia and Qatar. Such quarantine packages cost an average of Dh9,000 per passenger. The rest live in an agonising limbo. 

Expats stuck in India were provided a faint glimmer of hope on June 19 when the Dubai Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced relaxations for fully-vaccinated passengers starting June 23. Major carriers have since been deferring final travel dates and extending inbound passenger suspensions on a routine basis. New dates signalling the end of travel suspensions are now announced by airlines more frequent than weekly, sending the stranded passengers on an emotional roller-coaster.

However, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has firmly maintained that the inbound travel suspension will remain in place until further notice. “The UAE government is closely monitoring the situation and will provide further updates and instructions as necessary,” said the GCAA recently. 

While a lack of clarity on when the suspension will end leaves the stranded residents frustrated, we should not forget that the world is navigating unprecedented times. While aggressive vaccine campaigns and Covid protocols bring about a lull in infections in some parts of the world, deadlier and more contagious variants of the pathogen rear their ugly heads in other countries. The pandemic has turned into a never-ending Whac-A-Mole game. 

Thousands of passengers are still glued to updates shared by airlines on social media, booking and re-booking flight tickets every time a new travel date is announced. Travel agents have highly recommended those wishing to travel must await a formal announcement from either the GCAA or the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority on the end date before booking their tickets, instead of wasting precious time and money and losing peace of mind.

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News Network
July 24,2021

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Karwar, July 24: The Indian Coast Guard conducted a day-long rescue operation in Karnataka, saving 155 people who were stranded in flood-ravaged Uttara Kannada district on Friday.

According to a Coast Guard release, units were kept on standby for rescue and providing relief to marooned and stranded people.

The rescue operation was part of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) with each team consisting of seven to nine Coast guard personnel was formed and deployed in the flood-affected region of Kadra, Unglijoog Island and Kharegoog Island of Uttar Kannada, it said.

The statement added that a team one rescued a total of 90 people from Khargejoog village while the rescue team two rescued 10 from Bodojoog island in association with the state administration.

The rescue operations were conducted by the Disaster Response Teams (DRTs) using two rubberised inflatable boats, life jackets, and lifebuoys.

In this early morning operation, 23 stranded personnel were rescued and engaged for the relief operation, the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) said that this is the first time that more than 500 mm of rainfall has been recorded in the state.

The Ankola-Dongri stretch in Uttara Kannada witnessed 541 mm of rainfall in 24 hours between July 22 and July 23.

In the same duration, 42 TMC of water was added in 13 major reservoirs of the state.

According to the KSNDMC officials, a total of 18 taluks across six districts have reported notable damages. A total of 8,733 persons living in low-lying and vulnerable areas have been shifted by respective district administrations. A total of 4,964 persons residing in Uttara Kannada (3,066), Shivamogga (8) and Belagavi (1,890) districts have taken refuge in 80 relief camps.

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coastaldigest.com news network
July 22,2021

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Mangaluru, Jul 22: Following the heavy rains continued to batter Kalyana Karnataka, coastal and Maland districts On Thursday leading to loss of life and properties.

The metrological department predicted very heavy rains expected few more days across the state.

All reservoirs across the state reaching their maximum level with inflows of rivers in Krishna and Cauvery basins.

A 33-year-old woman died after a portion of her house wall collapsed on her at Kumarchincholi in Humnabad taluk, Bidar district. Parvathi Vaijnath's husband and their two children have suffered serious injuries in the incident.

Belagavi district police had to pull out a car that got stuck in a ditch on the Kolhapur highway near Rani Channamma University in Belagavi on July 22.

Several houses in the district have suffered partial damage due to prolonged wet weather.

Kalaburagi city experienced drizzle through the day. The non-stop drizzling affected normal life in the city. Mantagi stream, which drains into the Amarja river, is in full spate in Aland taluk.

The dead bodies of Manikamma and Pralhad Dodla, who have swept away in the overflowing Kagina river in separate incidents are yet to be traced despite search operations for the past three days.

Parts of Yadgir, Raichur and Koppal districts also witnessed good showers in the day. Meanwhile, the Krishna river and its tributaries have been receiving copious inflows following the incessant rain in their catchments in Khanapur taluk and the Konkan belt of Maharashtra.

As many as six of nine bridge-cum-barrages in Chikkodi and Nippani taluks, Belagavi district, have gone underwater despite no discharges from Maharashtra dams.

Following night long heavy down power landslides have been reported on National Highway 75 near Donigal in Sakaleshpur taluk in Hassan district. The vehicular movement on the Bengaluru-Mangaluru highway has been hit. The local administration has stopped the movement of heavy vehicles on the stretch. Last year during heavy rains, a landslip had occurred at this stretch.
Meanwhile, the intensity of rain has come down considerably in the coastal and Malnad districts, with the exception of Kodagu.

The hilly district continued to see sharp showers intermittently. Madikeri, Napoklu, Bhagamandala, Talacauvery and Mukkodlu regions received intermittent rains on Wednesday. Harangi reservoir level touched 2,855.66 feet mark, just four feet short of reaching its full reservoir level. The weather department has predicted heavy showers for four Malnad and three coastal districts for the next two days. A yellow alert has been sounded for the aforementioned districts on Thursday and Friday.

A Mangaluru report said the Sea erosion has intensified in Someshwar, Uchila and Battappady near Ullal. Over 30 houses in these areas are in danger.

Even a road here has been damaged and since this morning huge tidal waves are lashing the shores. The mighty waves have already washed away many coconut trees in the area and residents are living amid fear.

Vehicular traffic on the Shiradi Ghat stretch of road has been affected after a landslide was reported on Thursday. Those travelling towards Bengaluru have been advised to use alternate roads.

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