WHO declares latest COVID variant VoI; Doc says don’t panic

Health experts call for precaution as XBB1.16 has been declared as Variant of Interest

NEW DELHI | Updated: 22 April, 2023 5:39 pm IST
Symptoms of the ongoing COVID surge include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and red sticky eyes (Photo for representative purpose only)

The latest Omicron offshoot, XBB1.16, has been declared a Variant of Interest (VoI) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its sustained increase and estimated growth advantage.

XBB.1.16 has been nicknamed Arcturus after the northern celestial hemisphere’s brightest star. First reported on January 9, XBB.1.16 is a descendent lineage of XBB, a recombinant of two BA.2 descendent lineages.

“Following a sustained increase in the prevalence of XBB.1.16 and sustained growth advantage reported from several countries, and following the advice of the WHO Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Viral Evolution (TAG-VE) on a meeting convened on April 17, 2023, XBB.1.16 has been designated as a VOI,” WHO said.

The global risk assessment for XBB.1.16 is low as compared to XBB.1.5 and the other currently circulating variants.

However, WHO observes, “In India and Indonesia, there has been a slight increase in bed occupancy numbers. However, the levels are much lower than seen in previous variant waves.”

Speaking with The New Indian, Dr Manoj Kumar, Senior Director, Cardiology, Max Hospital, Patpargunj, said, “XBB1.16 variant is a recombinant variant of omicron and it spreads faster. The spike protein in this variant is also evading immunity. This is surpassing the immunity achieved.”

On being asked about people’s fatigue towards COVID-appropriate behaviour, Dr Kumar said, “Till strictest orders are there, people generally do not comply with COVID-appropriate behaviour even in hospitals, which is definitely dangerous.”

The expert believes that this variant should not be taken very lightly because COVID, after all, is ‘not a normal viral fever’ but there should be precautions rather than panic.

Symptoms of the ongoing COVID surge include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and red, sticky eyes (especially among children).

On the latest XXB 1.16 variant, Dr Gladwin Tyagi, pulmonologist and chief medical officer, at Swami Dayanand Hospital, said, “As it is a new variant, it is not known which mutation would take place and at what level.”

“Still, it has been observed that it makes people fall sick with fever, sore throat and body aches but also recovers within a week,” he said.

“Covid never got over. This has transformed into an endemic form. The new variant emerges as and when the existing variants mutate. Although herd immunity is still there, according to antibodies, if a new variant comes, then an increase in the number of cases is normal,” Dr Tyagi explained.

Delhi is one of the eight states that received a letter from the Union Health Ministry following a surge in cases, with reports of 1,603 new infections out of the 5,993 samples. Three deaths have been reported, of which two are related to COVID-19. Delhi’s rate of positivity is 26 per cent because of limited testing numbers.

Dr Tyagi says, “There is no need to panic, but one has to maintain the precautions so that patients who are suffering from comorbidities or immunosuppressive diseases do not fall prey to the virus.”

“The government advisory regarding masks is definitely there, but it’s not impounding. People should take precautions by following COVID guidelines for their own sake. Masks should be worn mandatorily in crowded places in particular,” Dr Tyagi added.

According to the Union Health Ministry, the overall recovery rate is 98.66% which amounts to cumulative recoveries of 4,42,83,021 to date. In the last 24 hours, 10,765 recoveries were reported.

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