New Omicron Subvariant Drives Covid Infections Globally, Poses Threat in 33 Countries

The Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, is behind a fresh surge in Covid cases around the world. The highly communicable variant is driving infections in at least 33 countries, including Italy, the US, the UK, Vietnam and India.

According to the Italian Ministry of Health, the country recorded 27,982 new positive cases during April 14 and 20, compared to the previous week (21,779). The number of deaths also increased by 48.1 per cent, totalling 191, compared to the previous week (129).

Novel Coronavirus (Representational Picture) Pixabay

The latest estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the subvariant XBB.1.16 accounts for 9.6 per cent of new infections this week, according to news agency IANS.

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The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) in the latest technical briefing said there were at least 135 cases of Omicron XBB.1.16, in the UK. It also claimed five lives in England.

Media reports state that Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam logged 56 fresh coronavirus cases with 42 hospitalisations during the past 24 hours, on April 23. Currently, 180 patients are receiving treatment in medical facilities and 57 cases require mechanical ventilation.

In addition, Singapore and Australia also are seeing over 100 Covid cases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) so far, 3,648 sequences of the Omicron XBB.1.16 variant have been reported from 33 countries, including India, on open research platform GISAID, the global health body said.

Meanwhile, India on Monday reported 7,178 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours, according to the data shared by the Union health ministry.

The current Covid surge in India is showing signs of slowing. In the last seven days, cases across the country rose by 20 per cent, a significantly lower rate than the 80 per cent to 110 per cent spikes seen in the previous five weeks, as the seven-day case count fell in four states where infections had earlier been surging.

Kerala, which has been reporting the highest number of new cases, logged a 13 per cent drop in the current week. Cases also fell in Gujarat, Himachal, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, while showing no rise in Maharashtra.

The global health body, last week, also upgraded XBB.1.16 as a Covid-19 "variant of interest" (VOI) due to its "sustained increase" and "growth advantage" reported from several countries.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for Covid-19 response at WHO said in a tweet that XBB.1.16 has shown "growth advantage and immune escape".

Although there has been a "slight increase" in XBB.1.16-related hospitalisation in India and Indonesia, the levels are "much lower than seen in previous variant waves", as per the WHO.

Further, "available information does not suggest that XBB.1.16 has additional public health risk relative to XBB.1.5 and the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages".

"However, XBB.1.16 may become dominant in some countries and cause a rise in case incidence due to its growth advantage and immune escape characteristics," the WHO added.

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