A new COVID-19 variant is causing concern in India — and it may be 1.2 times more infectious than the Kraken variant.
The new strain, dubbed Arcturus, has increased 13-fold in the last month in the country.
Arcturus — technically the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16 — caused India’s health ministry to launch mock drills in order to see if hospitals are properly prepared to handle a potential influx of COVID patients.
Arcturus — one of more than 600 Omicron subvariants — was first detected in January. It’s being monitored by the World Health Organization, with some officials noting it had some mutations of concern.
The variant has been detected in other countries as well, but most of the cases were in India, where it took over other variants.
Arcturus has been reported in several states in the US, including California, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Texas, a tracker run by Rajendram Rajnarayanan, MSc, Ph.D., of the New York Institute of Technology shows.
“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,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 technical lead, said during a press conference on March 29.
“It has one additional mutation in the spike protein which in lab studies shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity,” she added.
Van Kerkhove shared that there has been no reported change in the severity of infections for the new strain.
However, a study from the University of Tokyo published on the biology research website bioRxiv suggested that Arcturus is 1.2 more infectious than the Kraken variant, writing that it will “spread worldwide in the near future.”
Mutations of the new variant could potentially make it more difficult for the immune system to take on, increasing the growth rate, scientists suggested.
They noted that there’s no evidence that Arcturus has the power to bypass protection from either vaccines or antibodies from prior infections compared to Kraken, which was the dominant strain in the UK by the end of February.
On April 12, there were 40,215 active cases of COVID — up by 3,122 in just one day, according to India’s Ministry of Health.
Figures from Our World in Data, run by Oxford University, show that new daily cases in India hit 3,108 on April 4 — an increase of 242 from the previous month.
For the first time in more than a year in some areas, some states reintroduced mask mandates in public places, according to India.com.
The health minister of the Indian state Kerala reinstated masks for pregnant women, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions on Saturday.