Everything you need to know about the Arcturus Covid variant surging in India

Everything you need to know about the Arcturus Covid variant surging in India
Arcturus: What is the new Covid variant causing a surge in cases

A new variant of Covid is spreading in India and causing concern.

The variant, also known as Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, was first identified in January and has been monitored by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 22 March.

Two Indian states, Haryana and Kerala, have reintroduced mask wearing in public due to the variant and India's Ministry of Health recorded more than 3,000 new cases in a single day and 40,215 active Covid infection across the country on April 12.

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And experts are warning it is more infectious than other variants.

Where is it?

The variant has been detected in 22 countries so far, including the UK and US. Around 50 cases have been detected in the UK so far, according to The Daily Mail, but Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia told the newspaper it was too soon to say that Britain could face a fresh surge in infections driven by Arcturus.

What are the symptoms?

While people have reported the same symptoms as other variants, some infected individuals are also reporting conjunctivitis and sticky eyes.

Health professionals share their stories about diagnosing Covid deniers with Covid.Health professionals share their stories about diagnosing Covid deniers with Covid. Getty Images

How infectious is it?

Scientists at the University of Tokyo comparing the Kraken and Arcturus sub-variants have suggested that the newer strain spreads about 1.17 to 1.27 times more efficiently than its relative, warning that it “will spread worldwide in the near future” aided by the fact that it seems “robustly resistant” to antibodies lingering in the body from previous Covid infections.

What have experts said about it?

At a press conference on 29 March, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid, said: “It’s been in circulation for a few months.

“We haven’t seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that’s why we have these systems in place. It has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which, in lab studies, shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity.”

Virologist Professor Lawrence Young from the University of Warwick told The Independent that the rise of the new variant in India is a sign that “we’re not yet out of the woods.”

“We have to keep an eye on it,” he said. “When a new variant arises you have to find out if it’s more infectious, more disease-causing, is it more pathogenic? And what’s going to happen in terms of immune protection.

“These kinds of things highlight the importance of genomic surveillance but a lot of countries including our own have let our guards down a bit and we can’t be sure what variants are around and what level of infection they’re causing until we see a significant outbreak.”

India's Health Minister, Dr Mansukh Mandaviya said there is "no need to worry".

He said: “Currently, the sub-variant of omicron, which is circulating in the country, hasn’t led to an increase in the rate of hospitalisation.”

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