In 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak, a pandemic. The virus known for causing severe and life-threatening respiratory illnesses is so far the worst battle the making has fought in the field of health. In India, the virus triggered back-to-back four waves, out of which the deadliest one was the second wave caused mainly by one of the variants of COVID-19 called Delta. From a sudden drop in the body’s oxygen levels to causing severe pneumonia and loss of smell and taste, this variant was ferocious in nature. The year 2021, when the second wave of coronavirus hit India, will be encrypted in the pages of history as the scenes from the hospitals dealing with the massive jump in cases and infections were heartbreaking and at the same time, scary.
When the country stepped in 2023, the hope that everybody had was to witness a different year. A year with no lockdowns, no work from home, and especially no new variant of COVID-19 triggering another wave. However, as the experts have said from the beginning, COVID is a virus, and the basic nature of any virus is to mutate and give rise to new variants. In the last 3 years, the COVID virus has also mutated hundreds of times, giving rise to new and deadlier variants. In the current situation, the country is reeling under the threat of another wave of the virus in the upcoming days. The current dominant strain of the COVID virus in the country is the mutated version of the Omicron variant — named Arcturus, or XBB.1.16.
India’s Current COVID Situation
As more and more cases are being registered on a daily basis, will there be another lockdown in the country to contain the virus spread? How is COVID going to behave in the next couple of months? What is the future of COVID-19 in India? Let’s answer all your queries.
XBB.1.16: How lethal is the new variant?
XBB.1.16, the new Omicron variant that is leading to a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases across the country, especially in Maharashtra, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The XBB.1.16 variant was first detected in Pune in February this year. As per reports, the variant has already replaced the other dominant COVID strains in the country. Let’s know more about the nature and mutations in this variant and also how lethal it is in nature.
The XBB.1.16 is also known as Arcturus. The sub-variant can rapidly transmit from one body to another and has additional mutations in its nucleotide and amino acids. The hybrid lineage of recombinant XBB, this strain that first emerged in 2021 is wreaking havoc in India with its high transmissibility rate. The WHO has also stated that the XBB.1.16 is the current most contagious variant of COVID-19 circulating in the world.
The XBB.1.16 is a mutant strain of Omicron, it can elude hybrid immunity and of that gained by vaccination. In the last couple of days, the variant has triggered the fear of another wave in India, with a sudden jump in daily Coronavirus cases.
We spoke to Dr Dhara Banerjee, Infectious Disease Specialist, to understand the deadly nature of the virus variant and how impactful it can be on the human body. Speaking to TheHealthSite.com, Dr Banerjee said that the XBB 1.16 subvariant is a highly contagious and transmissible variant of the virus with a high infectivity rate. Also known as Arcturus, this subvariant has worrisome mutations on the amino acids and nucleotide space that gives it the ability to escape hybrid immunity achieved by vaccination and previous exposure to the virus.
Look out for these symptoms of COVID-19 XBB.1.16:
High-grade fever for more than 48 hours
Cold and abdominal discomfort
“Upper respiratory symptoms like a blocked nose, headache, sore throat, fever, and myalgia, or muscular discomfort that lasts for three to four days, are typical for any variant of COVID-19.”
Are We Going To Relive Delta Driven 2nd Wave In 2023?
The second wave of COVID-19 was being driven by Delta, the first heavily mutated version of the virus, which had the ability to cause pneumonia-like illnesses inside the lungs of the infected patient. However, the current strain of COVID-19 which is spreading in India is not that lethal and dangerous in nature. Even though there are some worrisome mutations in the spike protein of the XBB.1.16 variant, it is still not as dangerous as the Delta variant. Answering the question about reliving the second wave of delta in 2023, with the XBB.1.16 variant, Dr Banerjee said, “People in India are vaccinated now, which means they have immunity against severe outcomes of the virus infection. Also, the XBB.1.16 variant of Omicron doesn’t lead to life-threatening lung conditions. The symptoms associated with this new variant are mostly fever, cough, eye infection and body cramps. Which clearly means it is different from what the delta variant was capable of. Delta variant could trigger a deadly wave in India due to three reasons — low vaccination rate, the ability to infect the lungs and cause pneumonia-like symptoms and drop i blood oxygen levels.” She further added, “However, it is important that everyone follows basic COVID safety protocols to stay safe from contracting the virus. Even though it is not lethal in nature, the virus can still affect your internal organs to a level which can give rise to other health complications.”
Are We Prepared For A 5th COVID Wave?
In the last 24 hours, India has reported a sudden surge in daily COVID-19 cases. As per the report by the Union Health Ministry, the country has recorded 12,591 new COVID-19 cases, 20 per cent higher than yesterday. The authorities are taking steps to increase the testing process and have also made masks mandatory in places witnessing a surge in infection numbers.
Talking about the preparedness front, India has increased the bed counts and dedicated more hospitals to COVID management. Also, the government conducted mock drills across the nation to take a look at the state and government-run hospitals’ preparedness to handle a new wave in the future.