With at least 21 cases of Covid-19’s newest mutant Delta plus being found in seven districts in Maharashtra, the state, which is just about beginning to win against the virus’s second bout since the pandemic broke last year, has returned to the drawing board to chart a fresh roadmap to battle a possible third wave.
Last week, the state health department had made a presentation to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray where it said that Delta plus could exacerbate the third wave of the pandemic in Maharashtra.
On Wednesday, state Health Minister Rajesh Tope sought to alleviate fears even as termed the mutant a ‘variant of concern’.
“Its transmissibility rate is higher. It may be negligent with 0.005 per cent higher virulence, but it is more than the others,” he told reporters in Mumbai.
The Union Health Ministry has categorised Delta Plus as a ‘variant of concern’ and directed states to take up immediate containment measures in clusters where the variant has been detected.
The plan ahead
Given the exigencies created by the ever-evolving SARS-CoV-2, aggressive contact tracing and testing is the current mantra as authorities race against time to stop the spread in the state that reached highs in terms of Covid-19 numbers this year that were not reached even during the first peak.
With little to no data available on the Delta plus’s symptoms and causes, and other characteristics as compared to the Delta variant, the state authorities are now concentrating on ‘isolating index cases’.
“We are noting down their travel history, vaccination background. Among their high and low-risk contacts, we are aggressively contact tracing and testing every potential person,” Tope Added.
“Fortunately, none of the Delta Plus cases have been fatal. Many of these patients have recovered and have gone back home,” he said.
Back to the drawing board
The state has also launched a project to research the variant where 3,500 samples have been collected for genome sampling.
In its three-point advisory to states with active Detla plus cases, the Centre has also asked the states to take up immediate containment measures, enhanced testing, tracking and vaccination in districts and clusters where the Delta plus variant was found.
Samples of the infected persons are to be promptly sent to designated laboratories of INSACOG so that the clinical epidemiological correlations can be made, the government said. INSACOG, or Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics, was set up to conduct genome sequencing of the coronavirus.
Of the 21 cases in Maharashtra, nine are in Ratnagiri, seven in Jalgaon, two in Mumbai, and one case each in Palghar, Thane, and Sindhudurg districts.
And authorities are also trying to study why Ratnagiri and Jalgaon have reported such a high number of cases, Tope said.
“Since there is yet to be a distinction to be found between the symptoms of Delta plus and the Delta variant, we are going to follow the same treatment protocol,” he said.
No alarm, but caution
There is no sufficient data available to be alarmed about the ‘Delta Plus’ variant, Maharashtra Covid-19 task force member Dr Shashank Joshi said on Wednesday, even as he was quick to add that people still need to adhere to Covid-19 prevention guidelines and wear masks, avoid crowds and get vaccinated.
Delta plus virulence is unknown, but the transmission may be more, he wrote in a tweet.
Goa steps up surveillance
Since the Delta Plus variant has been found in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district adjoining Goa, “surveillance along the border has been stepped up”, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said.
Sawant said Goa has so far reported 26 cases of the Covid-19 ‘Delta’ variant, which were detected in samples sent to a laboratory in Pune. He said the Goa Medical College and Hospital (located near Panaji), North Goa District Hospital (Mapusa), South Goa District Hospital (Margao) and Victor Hospital (Margao) have been collecting Covid-19 patients’ samples which are sent to the Pune-based lab to check for variants of the virus.
Sawant also said his government has allowed private laboratories to set up their facilities along the Goa-Maharashtra border. “If we find any suspect (entering Goa with the coronavirus infection), he is isolated and tested before being allowed to move around in the state,” Sawant said.
(With PTI inputs)