New 'delta plus' coronavirus variant identified in India

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Relatives of a Covid victim mourn at a cremation ground in New Delhi, India - Shutterstock
Relatives of a Covid victim mourn at a cremation ground in New Delhi, India - Shutterstock

India has identified a new coronavirus variant "of concern" - named locally as delta plus - and officials say nearly two dozen cases have already been detected in three states.

On Tuesday, the variant was found in 16 cases in the state of Maharashtra, according to the Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.

The ministry said delta plus showed increased transmissibility and advised states to increase testing.

India vaccinated a record 8.6 million people on Monday as it began offering free shots to all adults, but experts doubted it could maintain that pace.

"This is clearly not sustainable," said Chandrakant Lahariya, an expert in public policy and health systems.

"With such one-day drives, many states have consumed most of their current vaccine stocks, which will affect the vaccination in days to follow."

Under the projected vaccine supply for the next few months, the maximum daily achievable rate is four to five million doses, it is estimated. The effort has so far covered about 5.5 per cent of the 950 million people eligible, even though India is the world's largest vaccine producer.

A devastating second wave during April and May overwhelmed health services, killing hundreds of thousands.

Since May, vaccinations have averaged fewer than three million doses a day, far less than the 10 million that health officials say are crucial to protect the millions vulnerable to new surges.

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