New Delhi: The number of new COVID cases increased by 52 per cent during the past four-odd weeks, the WHO said, with over 850 000 new cases reported during the period. The number of new deaths decreased by 8 per cent as compared to the previous 28-day period, with over 3,000 new fatalities reported, World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest press release. As of December 17, over 772 million confirmed cases and nearly seven million deaths have been reported globally since the onset of COVID-19, the WHO noted.
Further, the WHO said over 118,000 new COVID-19 hospitalisations and over 1600 new intensive care unit (ICU) admissions have been recorded, with an overall increase of 23 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively, globally.
As of December 18, 2023, JN.1, a sub-lineage of BA.2.86 Omicron variant has been designated a separate variant of interest (VOI) apart from its parent lineage BA.2.86 due to its rapid increase in prevalence in recent weeks. Globally, EG.5 remains the most reported variant of interest. Due to its rapidly increasing spread, WHO is classifying the variant JN.1 as a separate variant of interest (VOI) from the parent lineage BA.2.86. It was previously classified as VOI as part of BA.2.86 sublineages.
Based on the available evidence, the additional global public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low. Despite this, with the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, JN.1 could increase the burden of respiratory infections in many countries. The WHO had earlier said it was continuously monitoring the evidence and would update the JN.1 risk evaluation as needed.
Current vaccines continue to protect against severe disease and death from JN.1 and other circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, it noted. COVID-19 is not the only respiratory disease circulating. Influenza, RSV, and common childhood pneumonia are also on the rise.
The WHO advises people to take measures to prevent infections and severe disease using all available tools. These include wearing a mask when in crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated areas, keeping a safe distance from others, practicing respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes), cleaning hands regularly, and getting tested if one has any symptoms or if you might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or influenza.
WHO asks countries to strengthen surveillance
The WHO has urged countries in South-East Asia to strengthen surveillance in view of the increasing cases of respiratory diseases, including due to COVID-19 and its new sub-variant JN.1, and influenza. The WHO also urged people to take protective measures.
The COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, change, and circulate in all countries globally. While current evidence suggests the additional public health risk posed by JN.1 is low, we must continue to track the evolution of these viruses to tailor our response.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia, said,
For this, countries must strengthen surveillance and sequencing, and ensure sharing of data.
WHO has classified JN.1 as a variant of interest following its rapid global spread. In recent weeks, JN.1 was reported in multiple countries, and its prevalence has been rapidly increasing globally.
Considering the limited available evidence, the additional public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low at the global level, Singh said.
It is anticipated that this variant may cause an increase in COVID-19 cases amid surge of infections of other viral and bacterial infections, especially in countries entering the winter season.
Dr Khetrapal Singh said,
As people travel and gather for festivities during the holiday season, spending a lot of time together indoors where poor ventilation facilitates transmission of viruses that cause respiratory diseases, they must take protective measures and seek timely clinical care when unwell.
The regional director also emphasised on the importance of vaccination against COVID-19 and influenza, especially for people at high risk. She said,
All WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines continue to protect against severe diseases and deaths from all variants including JN.1.
In May, following sustained decline in the trajectory of COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths, and high levels of population immunity to SARS-CoV2, WHO declared that COVID-19 no longer constituted a public health emergency of international concern.
While considerable progress has been made in establishing and strengthening a global system to detect and rapidly assess risks posed by SARS-CoV2, testing and reporting of COVID-19 cases has decreased.
With COVID-19 continuing to circulate at high levels globally, countries must strengthen surveillance, sequencing, and reporting to effectively manage respiratory diseases and to protect people’s health, the regional director said.
(With agency inputs)
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.