The WHO is monitoring a new Covid variant which has been causing a surge of infections in several countries, sending alarm signals across the globe. The new variant, XBB.1.16 is a subvariant of Omicron and has been dubbed as ‘Arcturus’ by variant trackers.
The subvariant has been reported in 22 countries, with most of the cases documented in India.
The surge comes as India continues to witness a rise in Covid infections with 3,038 fresh cases reported on Tuesday.
Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead for the WHO said: “Most of the sequences [cases] are from India and in India, XBB.1.16 has replaced the other variants that are in circulation.
“So, this is one to watch. It has been in circulation for a few months.
“So far, reports do not indicate a rise in hospitalisations, ICU admissions, or deaths due to XBB.1.16.”
However, she said the subvariant doesn’t yet appear to cause more severe disease.
She said: “We haven’t seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that’s why we have these systems in place.
“Systems to track the virus variants, global collaborations to assess transmissibility, immune escape, severity and the impact of any of our interventions including diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.”
READ MORE: Royal Mail forced to apologise after ‘cruel’ pay rise prank
Health officials explained the strain is similar to XBB.1.5, which is dominant in the US.
She added: “It has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which in lab studies shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity.”
XBB.1.16 has been documented in the US, but does not yet appear on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s variant tracker.
The subvariant is just one of more than 600 omicron subvariants the WHO is tracking.
She said: “One of the things we are very concerned about is the potential for the virus to change to become not only more transmissible but more severe. So we have to remain vigilant.”
Meanwhile, WHO reported that about 3.6 million new Covid cases and more than 25,000 Covid-related deaths were reported from February 27 to March 26, a decrease of 27 percent and 39 percent, respectively, from the previous 28 days.
NHS vaccination director Steve Russell said: “We are learning to live with Covid but it is still really important that those at greatest risk come forward and boost their protection.
“There are still around 8,000 people in hospital with Covid, according to the latest data.
“If you are over 75 or you have a weakened immune system, please book a vaccine this spring so you can enjoy summer with peace of mind.”