Tourists Flouting Covid19 Norms May ‘Introduce Dreaded Delta Plus Variant’: Uttarakhand HC
The Uttarakhand High Court on Wednesday criticized the heavy influx of tourists in the state with people flouting social distancing protocols amid the ongoing Covid19 pandemic at hill stations like Nainital. The court urged the state government to review the lockdown measures that were relaxed last month, expressing concerns that the laxity could result in the spread of more transmissible variants of the novel coronavirus.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice R.S. Chauhan and Justice Alok Verma, was hearing a series of pleas regarding the handling of the pandemic. Alarmed at the fact that over 25,000 tourists were found to be violating Covid19 norms, the bench directed authorities to consider tightening lockdown regulations during weekends.
“The tourists may bring in and introduce the dreaded Delta plus variant in the state,” the court stated.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has already labeled the Delta variant as a “variant of concern” — a designation used to denote growing evidence of a variant being more transmissible, causing more severe infections, or being relatively immune to vaccines, or other approved treatments. Having emerged in Maharashtra in October 2020, it has already been identified in at least 98 countries — and has become the dominant strain in the U.K., Russia, Vietnam, and Indonesia among others. This morning, it was reported to have become the dominant strain in the U.S. as well.
It’s also called the “double variant” because of two mutations it carries — one increases its ability to bind to human cells, spiking its infectiousness; the other one facilitates viral entry into lung cells better. According to a Lancet study, the Delta variant raised the hospitalization rate of Covid19 patients by 85% compared to the Alpha strain.
The Delta plus variant, which the court expressed concerns about, contains a third mutation that may render vaccines less effective against the virus. The Delta plus variant was first found in India in April, and the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has since found it in six districts across Maharashtra, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh.
In fact, in the present hearing, Amit Negi, the secretary of Uttarakhand’s health department informed the court that officials have found the variant in their state as well.
Related on The Swaddle:
The role of public complacency in fuelling Covid19 cases was pointed out by several health experts in March, well before the second wave peaked; experts also cautioned more dangerous mutations could scuttle the progress made by India. The concern regarding variants has only grown since — a threat that could be further worsened, perhaps even exponentially, by flouting Covid19 norms.
The ruling also comes amid a video of hundreds of tourists (many of them without masks) bathing at the Kempty Falls in Mussoorie in Uttarakhand being shared widely over the internet since last evening.
“As soon as we stop following the appropriate behavior, Covid19 will come back,” Dr. Samiran Panda, a tropical medicine specialist, and scientist working with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), had told The Print in March. With the country having witnessed the devastation that unraveled since, the consequences of not following this advice rings true — especially with the emergence of variants like Delta and Delta plus.
Moreover, experts are worried vaccines are less effective against the Delta and the Delta plus variants — and what’s worse is that most people in India aren’t even fully vaccinated yet. At present, a little less than 5% of the population is fully vaccinated, and almost 21% of people have received, at least, one dose.
“As we have started unlocking, there is again a lack of Covid-appropriate behavior. We don’t seem to have learned from what happened between the first and the second wave. Again crowds are building up… people are gathering,” Dr. Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, told the press last month. “A third wave is inevitable… It all depends on how we go ahead in terms of Covid-appropriate behavior and preventing crowds,” he added.
In the meantime, the Uttarakhand High Court has directed the state government to ramp up vaccinations, especially for its elderly population, and physically disabled people — in addition to controlling the inflow of tourists, sensitizing the public, and updating the court about the daily rates of vaccination in the state.