New variant rings alarm
India has declared a new coronavirus variant to be of concern, and said nearly two dozen cases had been detected in three states so far.
The variant AY.1, identified locally as "Delta plus" and first identified in Europe, has been found in at least 22 cases across Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh states, the health ministry said.
The ministry also said Delta plus showed increased transmissibility and advised states to increase testing. Health experts warned that it may trigger a third Covid-19 wave in the country.
India vaccinated a record 8.6 million people on Tuesday as it began offering free shots to all adults, but experts doubted it could maintain that pace.
The country reported 50,848 new infections over the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed yesterday. The South Asian nation's total infections now stand at 30.03 million, according to a Reuters tally.
The Indian health ministry said the Delta plus variant has also been found in at least nine countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Russia, India, Portugal, Switzerland, Nepal and China.
This variant could account for 90 percent of new Covid cases in the European Union in the coming months, the bloc's disease control agency said yesterday.
This variant of the coronavirus now represents more than 20 percent of infections in the US in the last two weeks, or double what it was when the Centers for Disease Control last reported on the variant's prevalence.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, warned that the US could be following the UK's course, where the variant has become the dominant strain due to its rapid spread among youth.
Fauci said indications are that the Covid-19 vaccines remain effective against the variant.
The variant is accounting for half of new infections in US regions including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
The Delta variant currently represents 9-10% of confirmed new cases in France, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said yesterday. Last week, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the Delta variant represented 2-4% of cases in France.
Covid-19 vaccines made by AstraZeneca and the Pfizer-BioNTech alliance remain broadly effective against Delta and Kappa variants of the Covid-19 causing virus, according to a scientific study, underpinning a continued push to deliver the shots.
The study by Oxford University researchers, published in the journal Cell, investigated the ability of antibodies in the blood from people, who were vaccinated with the two-shot regimens, to neutralize the highly contagious Delta and Kappa variants, a statement said.
"There is no evidence of widespread escape suggesting that the current generation of vaccines will provide protection against the B.1.617 lineage," the paper said, referring to the Delta and Kappa variants by a commonly used code.
However, the concentration of neutralising antibodies in the blood was somewhat reduced, which may lead to some breakthrough infections, they cautioned.
Last week, an analysis by the Public Health England (PHE) showed that vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca offer high protection of more than 90% against hospitalization from the Delta variant.