WHO consideres new XBB.1.16 Covid variant ‘interesting’

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday termed Omicron’s new subvariant XBB.1.16 as ‘variant of interest’ amid a ‘sustained increase’ and ‘growth advantage’ of the variant in several countries. The first case of the XBB.1.16 was reported on January 9, this year while it was designated the title of a variant under monitoring (VUM) on March 22.

XBB.1.16 is a descendent lineage of XBB, a recombinant of two BA.2 descendent lineages. 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.

“Following a sustained increase in the prevalence of XBB.1.16 and growth advantage reported from several countries, WHO classifies XBB.1.16 as a VOI,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for Covid-19 response at WHO on Friday. Van Kerkhove noted that XBB.1.16 has shown “growth advantage and immune escape”.

While “no changes in severity have been reported, it can cause full range of disease”, she said, adding for the need to “be vigilant”. Driven by XBB.1.16, India on Saturday recorded 12,193 fresh COVID-19 cases in a span of 24 hours, with the number of active cases of the infection going up to 67,556, according to the Union health ministry.

The WHO noted that 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”. 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,a the WHO said.

“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,” it added. Meanwhile, some experts nicknamed XBB.1.16 as Arcturus, after the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. However, the WHO has not named it yet. WHO assigns Greek labels only for variants of concern (VOC), and not for VOIs. “We are not using nicknames for these sub variants, and I would kindly encourage you not to. Please,” Van Kerkhove said.

(With inputs from IANS)

ALSO READ | COVID-19: India records over 12,000 fresh cases, active tally climbs to 67,556

ALSO READ | COVID Arcturus variant or XBB.1.16: What is it; know its symptoms in adults and children

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