What is the ‘Arcturus’ COVID variant and what are the symptoms?

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A new COVID variant dubbed ‘Arcturus’ has caused a huge uptick in infections in India. (Reuters)

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By Jimmy Nsubuga

A new COVID variant dubbed ‘Arcturus’ has caused a huge uptick in infections in India, with the World Health Organization (WHO) classifying it as a variant of interest.

The XBB.1.16 strain of the virus is a sub-variant of Omicron and has led the Indian government to take out measures to stop its spread.

The country has asked states to identify emergency hotspots and ramp up-testing for COVID-19, after it recorded its highest daily case counts since September.

There were 7,830 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday, the health ministry said, with the active caseload surging to 40,215.

A healthcare worker collects a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test swab sample from a woman amidst the spread of the disease, at a railway station in New Delhi, India, January 5, 2022. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
India’s federal government asked states to identify emergency hotspots and ramp up-testing for COVID-19. (Reuters)

The prevalence of XBB.1.16 increased from 21.6% in February to 35.8% in March, the health ministry said, adding there that was no evidence of an increase in hospitalisations or deaths.

Paediatrician Dr Rahul Nagpal said doctors had seen rising cases of COVID in children, with conjunctivitis or ‘sticky’ eyes presenting as a possible new symptom.

He told India Today: “Usually, these children come with simple respiratory infections of cough, cold and fever, and when tested they turn out to be positive.”

Dr Nagpal added the main symptoms of XBB.1.16 in adults resembled the flu, including a nasal discharge, sore throat and cough.

Health minister Mansukh Mandaviya has asked states to ramp up genome testing and conduct mock drills in hospitals, a government statement said.

Some states have also taken out further measures to stop the spread of the virus, including mandating face coverings in public.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, previously said: “It’s (XBB.1.16) 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.”

White text on dark blue background. The different colors of the coronivirus spike proteins symbolize the mutations of the vrius.
             There is no evidence ‘Arcturus’ has caused an increase in hospitalisations or deaths. (Getty)

Daily new COVID cases in India have more than tripled from around 2,000 at the end of March.

The country has recorded more than 44.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic three years ago, the third-highest tally after the United States and China, and has a death toll from the virus of more than 530,000.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has dropped out of the top five leading causes of death in England and Wales for the first time since the start of the pandemic, figures from Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Coronavirus was recorded as the main cause of death for 22,454 people in 2022, or 3.9% of all deaths registered, making it the sixth leading cause overall.

By contrast, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was the leading cause in England and Wales in 2022, with 65,967 deaths registered (11.4% of the total), up from 61,250 (10.4%) in 2021.