A NEW Covid variant called ‘Arcturus’ has been detected in the UK, with 50 cases now reported, according to MailOnline. The variant has been causing havoc in India, where hospitals are on red alert, and some states have reintroduced compulsory face masks to curb the rocketing infection rates, which have increased 13-fold in the past month.
‘Arcturus’ is a spin-off of the Omicron variant and is believed to be the most contagious variant yet. It has mutations on its spike protein that could increase its ability to infect people and trigger disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Japanese researchers have suggested that it is 1.2 times more infectious than the already highly transmissible Kraken variant.
Despite the rise in cases, scientists do not expect the variant, scientifically known as XBB.1.16, to be more lethal than other types of Covid currently circulating. The UK Health and Security Agency had reported in its final variant report issued last month that the ‘Arcturus’ variant had already been detected in the UK. Separate data from variant trackers indicate that the UK has sequenced nearly 50 samples of ‘Arcturus’.
Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of East Anglia, cautioned that it is too early to determine if the variant will cause a significant surge in cases in the UK, but fortunately, it does not appear to cause more severe disease. “It’s certainly a cause for concern, but I don’t think we need to panic yet,” he said.
‘Arcturus’ has been detected in 22 countries since it emerged in March, with the largest outbreak by far in India. Officials there believe that the variant is driving the latest wave of Covid cases in the country. The Ministry of Health in India has conducted mock drills to assess the preparedness of hospitals for a potential influx of patients, and some states have reintroduced face mask mandates in public settings for the first time in over a year.
As of April 12, there were 40,215 active Covid cases in India, an increase of 3,122 in just one day. Separate data from the Oxford University-run platform Our World in Data show that new daily cases reached 3,108 on April 4, up from 242 one month earlier.
The WHO is currently monitoring the ‘Arcturus’ variant, which was first detected in late January and has some mutations of concern. Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid technical lead, stated that the variant has been in circulation for a few months, and while there has been no observed change in severity in individuals or populations, it has one additional mutation in the spike protein that has shown increased infectivity and potential increased pathogenicity in lab studies. Dr Van Kerkhove emphasized the importance of ongoing monitoring.