New Delhi - As of 8 am on December 20, 2023, India reported a total of 341 new COVID-19 cases. In the preceding 24 hours, 224 individuals who were diagnosed with the infection have either recovered, been discharged, or migrated. The situation in Kerala on December 19 was particularly noteworthy, with the state recording 292 new active cases of COVID-19 and three fatalities, as reported by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the emergence of a new variant of COVID-19, identified as JN.1. This variant has garnered attention from the World Health Organization (WHO), which has classified it as a 'variant of interest.' Variants of interest are those that have undergone specific genetic changes that might affect factors such as transmissibility, severity of disease, or the efficacy of diagnostics, treatment, and vaccines.
On December 18, media reported the Ministry of Health issuing a communication emphasizing control and management strategies to all states and Union Territories. The communication stated, “Due to consistent and collaborative actions between the Centre and state governments, we have been able to sustain the trajectory at sustainable low rates. However, as the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate and its epidemiological behavior gets settled with the Indian weather conditions and circulation of other pathogens, it is important to sustain momentum to effectively deal with public health challenges.”
The Central government has called on states to remain vigilant and consistently monitor the situation, specifically urging them to report instances of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) on a district-wise basis. While Kerala and Karnataka are currently on high alert due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, there are no restrictions on cross-border movement between these two states.
After a review meeting, the Health Department in Rajasthan instructed medical institutions to keep an eye on patients with cold and respiratory issues. Shubhra Singh, the Additional Chief Secretary of the Medical and Health Department, emphasized the need to upload patients' information on the health portal daily. Although no patients with the new variant were identified in the state, Singh stressed the importance of being prepared by ensuring that medical facilities have enough beds, oxygen, ICU beds, ventilators, medications, and testing resources in case potential patients need treatment.
Uttarakhand’s Health Secretary, R Rajesh Kumar, mentioned that some states are seeing more patients with the JN.1 variant. To address this, an advisory was sent to all districts and hospitals in Uttarakhand, urging everyone to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19. Hospitals were told to enter all details about these patients into the Integrated Health Information Platform portal.
On December 19, the Karnataka Health Department released guidance advising senior citizens and a select group of individuals to wear masks in public areas. This precautionary measure comes in response to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the neighboring state of Kerala. The advisory aligns with the suggestions put forth by the Karnataka Covid-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) during their meeting on December 17, with another meeting scheduled for Tuesday to further address the situation.
The advisory read, "All elderly (60 years and above), comorbid (particularly with kidney, heart, liver ailments, etc.), pregnant women, and lactating mothers, when outdoors, shall wear face masks and strictly avoid visiting closed, poorly ventilated spaces, and crowded areas."
The JN.1 variant is causing worries among healthcare workers, experts, authorities, and the public in India. This Covid subvariant, first found in Luxembourg, is related to the Pirola variant (BA.2.86), which comes from the Omicron subvariant. After two years since Omicron first appeared, the virus has reappeared in India as a new version called JN.1, a branch of the BA 2.86 (Pirola) sub-lineage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ongoing increase in the prevalence of JN.1 indicates that it could be either more contagious or more effective at avoiding the human immune system. However, the CDC also mentioned that there is currently no clear indication whether this new variant poses a public health risk compared to other variants currently in circulation.