Delhi, June 23: The Union Health Ministry categorized the Delta Plus variant of the novel coronavirus, as a ‘variant of concern’ which has so far detected in three states in the country and directed states to take up immediate containment measures in clusters where the variant has been detected.

The decision comes after INSACOG, a consortium of 28 laboratories of the Health Ministry that is involved in genome sequencing, informed the Centre that it has three worrying characteristics: increased transmissibility; stronger binding in receptors of lung cells; and potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.

Delta Plus variant or B.1.617.2.1 is closely related to the Delta variant, a major contributor to the second wave of Covid-19 in India. Like Delta, it has a mutation in the spike protein region of the RNA virus, which potentially makes it more transmissible.

WHO classifies a variant as one of concern when it is associated with an increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in Covid-19 epidemiology; increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or decrease in the effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said it has been detected in 22 samples across six districts in the country. “In India, Delta Plus variant has been detected in 22 samples. Sixteen of them have found in Jalgaon and Ratnagiri districts in Maharashtra; the remaining have been detected in Kerala (Palakkad and Pathanamthitta) and Madhya Pradesh (Bhopal and Shivpuri)… But we don’t want this to assume significant proportions,” Bhushan said.

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He also emphasized that the Delta Plus variant has been detected in nine other countries. “Any variant is classified as a variant of interest or variant of concern on the basis of transmissibility or virulence… Delta Plus variant has been found in nine countries: USA, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China, and Russia,” Bhushan said.