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Updated 28 July 2021

The Delta variant of COVID-19, first reported in India and now identified in several countries across the globe, is the “most transmissible” of the variants identified so far and is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Although the COVID-19 case count of Pakistan is on a downward trajectory, the Delta variant has become a pressing concern.

Keep reading to know about the Delta variant in Pakistan.

About the Delta variant – B.1.617.2

The Delta variant, first detected in India around late 2020. The variant, also known as B.1.617.2has been described as a ‘double mutant’. This term is used to refer to two main mutations E484Q and L452R, in spike proteins. It is also the fastest, fittest and most formidable version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and it is upending assumptions about the disease even as nations loosen restrictions and open their economies, according to virologists and epidemiologists. 

The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells. Double mutation in key areas of the virus’s spike protein might increase risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system. 

The variant, which was earlier classifies as a “variant of interest” has now been announced to be a “variant of concern” by the WHO. A mutation is elevated from a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern” (VOC) when it shows evidence of fulfilling at least one of several criteria, including easy transmission, more severe illness, reduced neutralization by antibodies or reduced effectiveness of treatment and vaccines.

Delta plus variant

The Delta Plus variant was formed due to a mutation in the Delta or B.1.617.2 variant. The Delta Plus variant (B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1) is characterized by the K417N mutation in spike protein. The Delta plus variant spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, which is a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralize the virus.


Delta variant in Pakistan

As the delta variant spreads, Pakistan is fearing the fourth wave of COVID-19. The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Pakistan’s central pandemic response body, has said the Delta variant now accounts for more than 70 percent of daily COVID-19 positive cases in major Pakistani cities.

The spread of the coronavirus Delta variant is reaching alarming levels in Karachi, as public and some private sector hospitals are reaching capacity and have already started refusing patients.

Non-cooperation of the public is also contributing to the staggering rise in number of cases as unvaccinated people are going out and about without realising the consequences. Doctors now fear that the Eid holidays and elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir on July 25 could prove to be super spreader events.


COVID Delta variant common symptoms

As the variant is a mutation, symptoms for it may vary. According to the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, the Delta variant may present in the form of headache, sore throat, runny nose, and fever.

According to the government’s official health advisory, the general symptoms of COVID-19 infection are as follows:

– Fever
– Shortness of breath
– Cough

Are existing vaccines effective against the Delta variant?

Although official data specific to Pakistan is not available, the UAE, which has a vaccine mix very similar to Pakistan’s, has reported that 92% of those admitted to intensive care and 94% of those who had died had not been vaccinated. This points to the fact that vaccines are effective at least in reducing the severity of the infection, if not preventing it completely.

So far, Pakistan has approved four vaccines- Sinopharm, Oxford/AstraZeneca, CanSino Bio, and Sputnik V.

Sinopharm & CanSino: China hasn’t provided any official data from clinical trials, real-world use, or lab tests. According to Feng Zijian, former deputy director at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, antibodies triggered by two Chinese vaccines are less effective against the Delta compared with other variants.

AstraZeneca: Real-world data from England’s Public Health Authority shows that two doses of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca are 92% effective against hospitalization due to the Delta variant and showed no deaths among those vaccinated. This claim is supported by recent data showing strong T-cell response induced by AstraZeneca (Covishield) which should correlate with high and durable protection.

Sputnik V: Denis Logunov, deputy director of the Gamaleya Institute that developed the vaccine, has reported that the Russian vaccine is about 90% effective against the Delta variant of coronavirus. According to the makers of the vaccine, Sputnik is one of the best options against the mutations of the virus as it is the only one that uses two totally different shots.

How to stay safe?

While the Delta variant is currently a small concern in Pakistan, it’s highly important to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Experts have stated that full vaccination is proven effective to guard against the double mutation.

Remember that even after immunization, you must adhere to all safety protocols with complacency.

Properly fitting masks covering the nose and mouth should be worn at all times in public. Double mask if you can. Use hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes regularly.

Refrain from going to crowded places, and if you must, ensure social distancing. Avoid using cash, go for digital payments as far as possible. Don’t eat or drink in public places, as you’ll have to remove your mas