The new Delta Plus variant of Covid-19 is a "variant of concern", India's Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday, June 22, The Indian Express reported.
The health ministry said the variant was first detected in April, and has been found in six districts in three states in the country so far, which are Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.
India's health ministry has instructed states to immediately take up measures to stem the spread of the variant, such as increased testing, and a higher vaccination rate.
The variant is closely related to the Delta variant, which was first identified in India last year, and contributed to the second surge of cases in the country.
Indian state officials said Delta Plus is thought to be more transmissible than the original Delta variant.
The new variant was first discovered in Europe, according to the BBC.
According to an official, the Delta Plus variant has also been detected in nine other countries, which are the U.S., the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China and Russia.
On the other hand, the original Delta variant has already spread to 80 countries.
Virologists doubt the new variant is truly that contagious
However, virologists have questioned if the Delta Plus variant is truly of concern. While viruses mutate constantly, not all become more contagious.
Leading virologist in India, Gagandeep Kang, told the BBC that further biological and clinical information is needed to verify this.
Another virologist, Jeremy Kamil of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, also said there is not much reason to believe the new variant is "any more dangerous" than the original Delta.
In addition, he said the Indian government is likely to overreact now than seem to be caught unprepared later, "as was the case with the Delta variant".
Indian just reported its lowest number of new infections since March 23, with 42,640 new cases on Tuesday, June 22.
The country has fallen short of its vaccination goals, with vaccinations average fewer than three million doses a day, which is drastically lower than the 10 million daily target the government has set, ABC News reported.
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