What is the new Delta Plus COVID variant that’s under close watch?

·3 min read
Photo credit: Morsa Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Morsa Images - Getty Images

We're almost two years into the pandemic, and while many aspects of life are back to normal (hello bottomless brunches and weekends away with your bestie), COVID-19 hasn't disappeared altogether. In fact, a new descendant of the Delta variant (which is the dominant variant in the UK) is causing a spike in infections. AY.4.2, which us non-medical experts are calling Delta Plus, is currently under close watch in the UK. But what actually is Delta Plus, and should we be worried about it?

According to the government, 6% of UK cases (that have been genetically sequenced) are different to the dominant variant, Delta. Included in that 6% is Delta Plus, which researchers have warned could contain mutations that give the variant survival advantages.

The good news is, experts think the variant is unlikely to become widespread or become vaccine-resilient. Although tests are currently being carried out to see what kind of a threat Delta Plus might pose. At the moment, Delta Plus isn't considered one of the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s 'variants of concern' nor is it a 'variant under investigation', which should come as some reassurance.

In the UK, the original Delta variant was classified as a variant of concern back in May 2021. Before that, the dominant variant here had been Alpha. But the emergence of new variants needn't trigger alarm bells in your head just yet, as there's actually thousands of variants of COVID across the world. That's because the virus (as with any virus) is constantly mutating, so it's unlikely we'll ever see an end to the emergence of new variants.

Photo credit: Carlo Prearo / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Carlo Prearo / EyeEm - Getty Images

Fast forward to July and scientists discovered Delta Plus (aka AY.4.2) in the UK. Cases of the variant have been slowly increasing since then, which is why Delta Plus has been put on the government's watch list.

Speaking about Delta Plus to the BBC, Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London's Genetics Institute, said: "It is potentially a marginally more infectious strain. It's nothing compared with what we saw with Alpha and Delta, which were something like 50 to 60 percent more transmissible. So we are talking about something quite subtle here and that is currently under investigation."

Professor Balloux continued, "It's good that we are aware. It's excellent that we have the facilities and infrastructure in place to see anything that might be a bit suspicious. At this stage I would say wait and see, don't panic. It might be slightly, subtly more transmissible but it is not something absolutely disastrous like we saw previously."

The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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