A new Covid-19 strain dubbed ‘Delta Plus’ has been labeled a variant of concern by the government of India, after almost two dozen cases were detected in three of the country’s states, health officials said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a press conference, Federal Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan urged regional authorities to increase their Covid testing, noting that the new variant (B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1) appeared to have increased transmissibility.

The new strain, which is a mutation of the Delta strain first detected in India back in October 2020, had previously been flagged as a variant of interest by the central government. 

Of the 22 cases discovered in India so far, Bhushan said 16 had been in the state of Maharashtra. A health ministry advisory said the other Delta Plus cases were found in the states of Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.  

The health secretary’s comments come a day after India set a one-day vaccination record of 8.6 million administered doses. However, there are concerns that such a pace cannot be sustained even as the risk of further variants looms. 

The Delta variant, or B.1.617.2, is much more transmissible – though has not been found to be more deadly – than previous Covid strains. A recent, yet to be peer-reviewed, study by a group of Indian scientists, including from the National Centre for Disease Control, found it had fueled India’s severe second wave of infections in April and May. 

India is second in the world, behind the US, when it comes to its total number of Covid-19 cases, having confirmed close to 30 million infections since the start of the pandemic. More than 389,300 of its citizens have so far died from Covid, according to the latest health ministry data. 

The Delta Plus strain has been detected in several countries to date, including the US, the UK and Japan.

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