New Delhi: India confirmed the presence of new JN.1 COVID sub-variant in a patient from Kerala on December 16. JN.1 variant, which is closely linked to the BA.2.86 variant, has been detected in 38 countries including India. India has also seen a spike in the overall COVID numbers from 4,50,01,536 on November 18, 2023 to 4,50,05,076 on December 18, 2023. The country has recorded 260 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, taking the tally of the active cases to 1,828, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday (December 18).
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the virus is evolving and changing and urged the member states to continue with strong surveillance and sequence sharing.
WHO continues to assess the situation. Follow WHO's public health advice to keep your families and friends safe during this holiday season. pic.twitter.com/HvAZVMMN49
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 17, 2023
The global body’s COVID-19 technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove took to X, formerly known as Twitter and said that a number of pathogens have led to the rise in respiratory diseases across the world. She said,
Respiratory diseases are increasing around the world due to a number of pathogens including #COVID19, #flu, rhinovirus, mycoplasma pneumonia & others SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve. JN.1 (subvariant of BA.2.86) is already a VOI (Variant of Interest) and continues to increase in circulation.
SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve. JN.1 (subvariant of BA.2.86) is already a VOI and continues to increase in circulation ⬇️ https://t.co/739wgCFlBz
— Maria Van Kerkhove (@mvankerkhove) December 17, 2023
Reasons For A Rise In Infections
In the video message, Ms Kerkhove further explained that the rise in COVID cases is because the virus is evolving.
Covid-19 is one of the diseases that is currently on the rise, and this is again due to a number of factors; the virus SARS-Cov-2 is evolving, changing, and circulating in all countries.
She further said that 68 per cent of the current cases are cases of XBB sublineages and other groupings like JN.1.
In some countries, we have these XBB sublineages, and they represent around 68 per cent or so of the sequences that are shared globally. The other grouping is BA.2.86, most notably JN.1 which causes the full spectrum, everything from asymptomatic infection, all the way to severe disease and death, similar to what we have seen with other Omicron sublineages.
She added that the recent surge in respiratory infections is due to multiple reasons, including increased gatherings during the holiday season and other infections. She said,
It’s not just COVID-19 that’s circulating; we have influenza, other viruses, and bacteria. In other parts of the world, we are entering the winter months, and people are starting to gather for the holiday season. And as people gather, they spend more time indoors, especially if there is poor ventilation. These pathogens that spread efficiently between people and through the air will take advantage.
What Are The Symptoms Of COVID JN.1 Strain?
The reported symptoms include fever, runny nose, sore throat, headache, and, in some cases, mild gastrointestinal symptoms. The health authorities highlight that most patients experience these mild upper respiratory symptoms, which typically improve within four to five days.
WHO Urges Strong Surveillance
The WHO expert urged the member states to continue with strong surveillance and sequence sharing so that proper steps can be taken to “potentially modify” the advice for the world.
She also advised people to get vaccinations and, in cases of infection, take clinical care. Ms Kerkhove said, “Protect yourself from infection using a number of tools. But also make sure that if you get infected, you get clinical care and get vaccinated when it’s your turn to prevent severe disease and death. All COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide against severe disease and death, and this includes all the circulating variants, including JN.1.”
COVID JN.1 Strain: India Initiates Preparedness Measures
The Union Ministry of Health has initiated preparedness measures after a case of the JN.1 subvariant of COVID was found in Kerala as part of the ongoing routine surveillance conducted by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG). The Consortium is a network of Genomic Laboratories and has been actively monitoring the genomic aspects of COVID-19 in India.
Kerala Health Minister Veena George on Sunday (December 17) assured the people that there is no need to worry and appealed them to stay vigilant. She added,
As Kerala’s health system is so good, we could detect it through genomic sequencing. No need to worry. We are keenly monitoring the situation. But we should be alert. People with comorbidities should be taken care of.
While the majority of cases in Kerala are reported to be clinically mild, the health authorities emphasise the importance of ongoing vigilance and preparedness to effectively manage the evolving situation related to COVID-19 variants.
The active COVID-19 cases in Kerala on Monday (December 18) rose by 111 to 1,634, according to data on the Union Health Ministry’s website. The 111 fresh cases in the state are out of the 127 reported from across the country.
The southern state also reported one death due to COVID-19 during the day, bringing the total number of people who died in the state since the virus outbreak three years ago to 72,053.
The number of people who were cured, discharged or migrated during the day after being diagnosed with the infection was recorded at 115 bringing the total under this category to 68,36,867 till date, according to the Health Ministry’s website.
Karnataka Makes Masks Mandatory For Those Above 60 Years Of Age
Amid rising cases of COVID in neighbouring Kerala, the Karnataka government on Monday (December 18) has made wearing of face masks mandatory for people above 60 and those with comorbidities. Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao said,
Those above 60-years of age and those with comorbidities like issues related to heart, kidney among others, and those with cough, phlegm and fever should mandatorily wear masks. We are communicating this to the public. Also, we have asked our hospitals and health centres to be prepared. There should be more surveillance in border districts like — Kodagu, Dakshina Kannada, Chamarajanagara — which share border with Kerala.
Increased tests among those with such symptoms and suspected cases, and heightened surveillance in border districts are among the measures that the officials have been instructed to take up, the Health Minister said.
He ruled out the need to restrict movement on the border at present. The situation is being continuously monitored, and there is no need for any restriction on movement and gathering of people as of now, he said, adding, the Government would come out with an advisory. Mr Rao said,
There is no need for anyone to worry. We had held a meeting day-before-yesterday and our technical advisory committee headed by Dr (K) Ravi had met yesterday and there was discussion between our officials and experts regarding the measures to be taken.
Regarding preparedness, the Minister assured that measures have been taken to ensure the availability of ICU beds and essential drugs. The Minister mentioned,
We have done a mock drill. We have asked them to keep everything ready to prevent any shortages.
(With inputs from agencies)
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