SINGAPORE: A fresh surge of COVID-19 infections in India spurred on by the Omicron sub-variant XBB.1.16 strain, also known as “Arcturus.” Infections have been up thirteenfold in India over the past month, and its health ministry is currently holding drills to determine if hospitals are ready to cope with rising cases.
Arcturus is already present in 22 countries, including Singapore, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and the question many are asking is if alarm bells should be sounded.
What is Arcturus?
The World Health Organization (WHO) said this particular Omicron sub-variant was first detected in January. The WHO has monitored Arcturus since last month since it has mutations that may cause concern and is considered the most transmissible variant to date.
However, “We haven’t seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations,” said WHO’s Covid technical lead, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove.
She added, however, that Arcturus has “one additional mutation in the spike protein, which in lab studies shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity.”
Masks have been reintroduced in some parts of India, including in Kerala, where the immunocompromised, elderly, and pregnant women have been asked to mask up.
On April 12, India’s health ministry recorded 40,215 active Covid infections.
Signs & Symptoms
Reports say that, like other variants, Arcturus patients may suffer from high fever and cough but added “itchy” conjunctivitis or pinkeye to its symptoms.
The virus was identified in the eye’s tear film by researchers at Nebraska Medicine’s Truhlsen Eye Institute, who noted that these are the signs of conjunctivitis: tearing, or watery eyes, redness, swelling, pain or irritation, itching, and discharge.
A cause for concern in Singapore?
Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Minister of Health, does not appear to think so.
“Of particular interest now is XBB.1.16. It is only of particular interest because someone gave it a sexy name called Arcturus. But really of all the variant strains now, there is really not a single one that we notice is particularly dominant. There is no evidence showing that any one of them causes more severe illness,” added Mr Ong.
He said on Friday (Apr 14) that last week, there were around 4,000 Covid-19 cases a day, nearly a third of which were reinfections.
Hospitalizations are also up from 80 last month to 220 at present. Nevertheless, this is still far lower than it was at the peak of the pandemic.
“What is happening is a clear demonstration of how far we have come in dealing with COVID-19. Even during a COVID-19 infection wave like now, we continue to live life normally, we’re not preoccupied over infection numbers … This is what endemicity should look like,” he is quoted in CNA as saying at the National Healthcare Group’s population health collective annual work plan seminar. /TISG