On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced that the COVID variant known as ‘Delta Plus’ is being moved up to the ‘variant under investigation’ category over concerns that it may be more transmissible than the existing Delta variant.
Delta Plus, the official name being VUI-21OCT-01, has only two mutations compared to the regular Delta strain and has not yet been labelled a ‘variant of concern.’
As of the 20th of October, records show that the Delta Plus variant only accounted for 15,120 cases or 6% of Delta infections, which make up nearly all COVID infections in the UK. Cases of the variant have also emerged in the US and previously in Denmark, where instances have since gone down.
Speaking about the Delta Plus, or AY.4.2 variant, the UKHSA explained: ‘The designation was made on the basis that this sub-lineage has become increasingly common in the UK in recent months, and there is some early evidence that it may have an increased growth rate in the UK compared to Delta.’
No evidence that Delta Plus causes more severe infection
There are many coronavirus mutations currently in existence, so the emergence of Delta Plus can’t be considered a surprise. The two mutations that the Delta subvariant contains, Y145H and A222V, have also been found previously in other COVID strains.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, explained to Sky News: ‘Viruses mutate often and at random, and it is not unexpected that new variants will continue to arise as the pandemic goes on, particularly while the case rate remains high.’
It is testament to the diligence and scientific expertise of my colleagues at the UKHSA, and the genomic sequencing capacity developed through the pandemic, that this new variant has been identified and analysed so quickly.
Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Delta Plus causes more severe infection and no reason to believe vaccines would be any less effective. The UKHSA continued:
While evidence is still emerging, so far it does not appear this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.
The UK is seeing an increase in COVID cases
Recently the UK’s coronavirus cases have once again started on an upward trend, with almost 50,000 cases reported on Monday, the most recorded since March.
Experts are now calling for COVID ‘plan B’ measures to be introduced, amongst fears that NHS services will once again become overloaded. Documents released by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have also detailed that if action isn’t taken now, the need for stricter COVID measures could return.
However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced earlier this week that there isn’t a need to bring in ‘plan B’ measures yet, but explained that they would need to be implemented if people neglected to get vaccinated.
If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer ... don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should ..., it’s going to hit us all, and it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions.
He continued: ‘We need to sustain the progress that we’ve made, we could lose it, we could really lose that progress if people don’t take up their vaccination offers.’