26.02.2024

Has India already beaten the super-infectious new Covid variant?

India may have already beaten the Arcturus wave, according to data that destroys fears surrounding the super-infectious Covid variant. A huge explosion in cases across the country over the past month left hospitals braced for a surge of infected patients.

Some of the worst-affected states even brought back mandatory face masks out of precaution.

It sparked concerns that Britain could be hit by a similar fate.

Yet India’s once-spiralling curve may have petered out before it ever had a chance to overwhelm the nation.

Cases now appear to be in decline, experts on the ground have claimed.

At the start of the week, India was logging over 10,500 Covid cases each day, according to Oxford University-run platform Our World in Data. This is up from the 160 in late February, when the variant began to gather pace. Data also suggested Arcturus it made up two thirds of all cases in the country. But as of Friday, April 28, this had dropped to 10,100

At the start of the week, India was logging over 10,500 Covid cases each day, according to Oxford University-run platform Our World in Data. This is up from the 160 in late February, when the variant began to gather pace. Data also suggested Arcturus it made up two thirds of all cases in the country. But as of Friday, April 28, this had dropped to 10,100

Health workers take part in a mock drill to check preparations for the Covid facilities at a hospital in Prayagraj on April 11, 2023

Health workers take part in a mock drill to check preparations for the Covid facilities at a hospital in Prayagraj on April 11, 2023

Paediatrician Dr Vipin Vashishtha, based in the north of the country, who was one of the first to raise the alarm about Arcturus when he warned it may trigger conjunctivitis in kids, said data suggests the resurgence has already ‘peaked’.

Prominent Covid experts today told MailOnline the U-turn in cases was proof that concerns over XBB.1.16, as it is scientifically known, were overblown.

They also insist there’s no proof the strain is any more severe than others circulating.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who advised the Government on the virus during the pandemic, also told MailOnline: ‘We have to stop jumping at every new Covid variant that comes along unless there is solid evidence that we have poor immunity to it.

‘We need to be treating Covid like any other influenza-like illness.’

What it’s REALLY like on the ground in India – the epicentre of Arcturus

Despite Covid cases having spiked in recent weeks, hospitals are not yet seeing huge crowds.

Most patients in New Delhi — which was the epicenter during previous peaks — are elderly or battling underlying conditions.

Fearing a repeat of last year’s carnage, hospitals around India conducted drills to check Covid readiness in the face of spiralling Arcturus figures.

More than 30,000 hospitals across India took part in the Covid mock drill, which involved checking availability of beds, ventilators and oxygen cylinders in the event they were overwhelmed.

In an anticipation of chaos, many provincial governments have made masks mandatory again.

That includes in Mumbai, where all patients, visitors and employees at hospitals must don coverings.

He added: ‘The influenza virus also changes fairly regularly but it is not headline news.

‘Public health agencies track the changes so that vaccines can be tweaked to match. Covid does not now require any different response.’

Professor Francois Balloux, a vocal Covid commentator throughout the pandemic, from University College London, also told MailOnline he was ‘not worried’ about the variant.

‘I don’t think anyone should be panicking over it, wherever they may live in the world,’ he said.

‘As long as we’re facing related Omicron variant lineages, replacing each other over time, we should be fine, whatever fancy name they may be given. Summer is coming.

‘There’s no ugly variant raising its head and Covid should rank low among peoples’ concerns right now.

‘As long as the Omicron lineage predominates – whatever variant – there will be cases, but no big nasty wave.

‘If and when, the World Health Organization (WHO) decides that an emerging SARS-CoV-2 lineage should be given a new Greek letter name, things will become more serious.’

He added: ‘That said, we’ll never be back to early pandemic ‘square one’, as protection against severe symptoms and deaths, provided by vaccination and prior infections will remain, long-term, whatever variant SARS-CoV-2 may throw at us in the future.’

The strain, which was first identified by the WHO in January, saw cases in India explode 90-fold within weeks.

Surveillance data shows the strain, scientifically called XBB.1.16, makes up roughly 2.3 per cent of all new cases. Separate unofficial figures suggest around 65,000 Brits are getting infected each day

Surveillance data shows the strain, scientifically called XBB.1.16, makes up roughly 2.3 per cent of all new cases. Separate unofficial figures suggest around 65,000 Brits are getting infected each day

Graph showing the number of Arcturus cases in UK regions, according to data from the UK Health Security Agency. This includes 96 cases in England, with the highest rates in London and the North West

Graph showing the number of Arcturus cases in UK regions, according to data from the UK Health Security Agency. This includes 96 cases in England, with the highest rates in London and the North West

People wear face masks as they arrive at a government hospital in Chennai, following a rise in Covid cases

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a patient for a Covid test inside a local hospital in Srinagar

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a patient for a Covid test inside a local hospital in Srinagar

Infections have soared in India, as this graph shows – but now numbers are starting to fall

Infections have soared in India, as this graph shows - but now numbers are starting to fall

Hospitals nationwide ran a two-day mock drill to assess their preparedness amid rising cases.

India was logging over 10,500 Covid cases earlier this week, according to Oxford University-run platform Our World in Data.

This is up from the 160 in late February, when the variant began to gather pace. But as of April 28, this had dropped to 10,100.

Data also suggested Arcturus it made up two thirds of all cases in the country.

Dr Vipin Vashishtha, consultant paediatrician at the Mangla Hospital and Research Centre, and former official at the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, also tweeted: ‘Is the peak of Indian Covid surge led by XBB.1.16 Arcturus already over? Yes the data suggests so.’

He added: ‘The outbreak probably peaked around week 13/14. Therefore it’s slowing down.’

India’s drills and masks were a grim reminder of how the country was devastated by the Delta wave in 2021, with a total of 4.7million excess deaths, according to WHO estimates.

The nation’s health system was overwhelmed by a surge of cases triggered by that Covid variant, with some hospitals even running out of oxygen.

Nowadays the illness caused by the Covid more closely resembles that of the flu, unlike during the earliest days of the pandemic.

But XBB.1.16 does have three extra mutations on its spike protein, which may help it dodge the body’s natural defences.

And doctors on the front line in India have also claimed they’ve seen a rise in infected children with conjunctivitis, suggesting Arcturus may be causing different symptoms to other variants.

A study published on Friday also revealed the variant has been shown to increase the risk of the eye condition among children under one-year-old.

Led by Dr Vashishtha, the research found young infants were disproportionately affected than older children.

A paramedic checks equipment at an intensive care unit ward inside a local hospital in Srinagar on April 11, 2023

A paramedic checks equipment at an intensive care unit ward inside a local hospital in Srinagar on April 11, 2023

Dr Vipin Vashishtha, consultant paediatrician at the Mangla Hospital and Research Centre and former official at the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, also tweeted: 'Is the peak of Indian Covid surge led by XBB.1.16 Arcturus already over? Yes the data suggests so'. He added: 'The outbreak probably peaked around week 13/14. Therefore it's slowing down'

Dr Vipin Vashishtha, consultant paediatrician at the Mangla Hospital and Research Centre and former official at the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, also tweeted: ‘Is the peak of Indian Covid surge led by XBB.1.16 Arcturus already over? Yes the data suggests so’. He added: ‘The outbreak probably peaked around week 13/14. Therefore it’s slowing down’

The variant, thought to be the most infectious yet, is causing carnage in India, with cases having exploded 90-fold since it first took off two months ago. Some of the worst-hit states have already brought back mandatory face masks to control its rapid spread

A healthcare worker collects a swab sample of a man for Covid test, amid a rise in coronavirus cases in the country, in New Delhi on April 17

A healthcare worker collects a swab sample of a man for Covid test, amid a rise in coronavirus cases in the country, in New Delhi on April 17

‘One interesting finding was the presence of itchy, non-purulent conjunctivitis with mucoid discharge and stickiness of eyelids in 42.8 per cent of positive infants,’ Dr Vipin, who also sits on the WHO’s vaccine safety net, said.

The study of 25 children seen between April 4 and April 16 found the youngest case was a 13-year-old newborn baby.

But none of the children required hospitalisation.

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of East Anglia, also told MailOnline today: ‘Covid has previously been reported as causing conjunctivitis even back in 2020.

‘Also many other respiratory viruses, especially adenoviruses, can cause conjunctivitis so not that surprising. Most cases of viral conjunctivitis are mild and recover of their own.

‘The issue is excluding another cause of the conjunctivitis that has to be treated more aggressively.’

He also warned that while infections ‘may have peaked in the last few days in India’, it remains ‘too early to be confident that this a not a temporary glitch’.

He added: ‘I prefer more than just three days of falling numbers before I am content it is a trend.

‘It is possible that the proportion of infections that are due to XBB.1.16 has also started falling but again it’s too early for me to be confident.

‘It looks like the percentage is falling but the confidence intervals are very wide.’

Scientists at the University of Tokyo comparing the Kraken and Arcturus sub-variants have suggested that the newer strain spreads about 1.17 to 1.27 times more efficiently than its relative.

They warned it ‘will spread worldwide in the near future’ aided by the fact that it seems ‘robustly resistant’ to antibodies lingering in the body from previous Covid infections.

Medical staff perform a drill at a government hospital in Kolkata on April 11, following a rapid rise in Covid cases

Medical staff perform a drill at a government hospital in Kolkata on April 11, following a rapid rise in Covid cases

A paramedic checks oxygen cylinders at a local hospital in Srinagar on April 11. On April 10, India began a two-day nationwide mock drill to assess the preparedness of hospitals in both public and private facilities amid rising Covid cases

A paramedic checks oxygen cylinders at a local hospital in Srinagar on April 11. On April 10, India began a two-day nationwide mock drill to assess the preparedness of hospitals in both public and private facilities amid rising Covid cases

In a briefing on April 20, the WHO confirmed XBB.1.16 ‘may spread globally and contribute to an increase’ in cases.

The strain, while identified in January, has been monitored by the WHO since the end of March.

It has now been seen in 42 countries, including the US, Singapore, Australia, and Canada.

Other Omicron sub-variants include Kraken (XBB.1.5) and Orthrus (CH.1.1).

Currently Kraken remains dominant in the UK, causing 44 per cent of all cases, while Omicron accounts for 8 per cent.

Like similar new Covid variants, virus trackers online decided to call XBB.1.16 ‘Arcturus’ following a pattern of naming new strains after mythological entities.

Arcturus means ‘Guardian of the Bear’ and is related to the constellation called the Great Bear.

Women wear masks as they pass through a crowded street, amidst the spike in Covid cases, in Chennai, India on April 11

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a Kashmiri patient for a covid-19 test at a local hospital in Srinagar, on April 11

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a Kashmiri patient for a covid-19 test at a local hospital in Srinagar, on April 11

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