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With COVID XBB.1.16 triggering a recent infection spike, World Health Organization said that the new variant is ‘one to watch’. Further, noting that the variant needs close monitoring, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead asserted ‘we are very concerned about the potential of the virus to change to become more severe’.

Van Kerkhove has also shown concerns about the recent spike in India. “In India, XBB.1.16 has replaced the other variants that are in circulation," Van Kerkhove said. “So this is one to watch." So far, the variant has been reported in 22 countries.

Can the variant cause severe infection?

Van Kerkhove pointed out, the subvariant has been circulating for a few months, and it doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease.

“We haven't seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that's why we have these systems in place," she said. “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."

However, “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," Van Kerkhove said. “So we have to remain vigilant."

She also said, the strain is similar to XBB.1.5, which is dominant in the U.S. but it has an additional spike protein.

“It has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which in lab studies shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity," Van Kerkhove said.

Currently, WHO is tracking more than 600 omicron subvariants, and XBB.1.16 is just one of them.

India is reporting a high number of COVID cases

A total of 2,994 new Covid-19 infections were reported in India on Saturday, a slight dip from Friday's tally of 3095 coronavirus cases, according to Union heath ministry data. India's active Covid-19 caseload currently stands at 16,354. Yesterday's tally of 3095 fresh coronavirus cases was the highest single-day rise in the last nearly six months.

The daily positivity rate was recorded at 2.09 per cent and the weekly positivity at 2.03 per cent, according to the health bulletin today.

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Updated: 01 Apr 2023, 05:11 PM IST
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