20 Dec 2023

COVID-19 Variant JN.1 surfaces in Madhya Pradesh; health dept on alert; what Centre is doing; what is Variant of Interest

The initial case of a new variant  JN.1 of the corona virus has emerged in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, causing widespread concern. The patient, who recently arrived from Norway, has tested positive for COVID-19. The woman exhibited symptoms, prompting a sample collection at the medical college hospital, where the initial test confirmed the presence of the virus. Simultaneously, cases of COVID-19 have also been identified in Indore.

The health department has been placed on high alert, with the woman's second sample undergoing testing. The 69-year-old woman is exhibiting typical symptoms, marking the first instance of this variant in the state. It is noteworthy that Jabalpur was the location of the first positive COVID-19 case in Madhya Pradesh in 2020, involving a businessman who had returned from abroad.

Indore Also Witnesses New Cases

In Indore, the resurgence of COVID-19 has been observed, with a married couple testing positive for the virus. Following confirmation, the couple was immediately placed in home isolation. The infected couple had recently returned from the Maldives and resides in the Palasia area of the city. While the woman has recovered from the infection, the man remains in home isolation. In response to the emergence of new variants, an alert has been issued in Madhya Pradesh, and the government has mandated RT-PCR and rapid testing.

Understanding JN.1's Threat

The new sub-variant of COVID-19, JN.1, demonstrates a capability to evade the immune system. Its symptoms mirror those of previous variants, encompassing fever, runny nose, sore throat, headache, stomach ache, and diarrhoea. Reports suggest that the new sub-variant may lead to more gastrointestinal problems. 

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in UAS indicates that JN.1 is not necessarily more deadly than other variants. Although it can evade the immune system, the likelihood of increased severe illness or hospitalization due to this variant is considered low.

CM Yadav's Response

Chief Minister Mohan Yadav has taken proactive measures to address the COVID-19 situation in Madhya Pradesh. He emphasized adherence to guidelines issued by the Government of India regarding the new variant. CM Yadav expressed confidence, citing previous victories against COVID-19 under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The health department is reportedly operating efficiently to combat COVID-19 and other diseases.

Global Spread of JN.1

JN.1 has been identified in 41 countries, with significant proportions reported in France, the United States, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The variant first surfaced in the United States in September and has become the fastest-growing variant in the country, as per the CDC's recent update.

Variant of Interest Designation

The WHO has classified JN.1 as a "variant of interest." This designation is assigned to variants showing faster growth than others and having genetic changes predicted or known to impact virus characteristics. These characteristics may include transmissibility, virulence, antibody evasion, susceptibility to therapeutics, and detectability. This designation triggers responsibilities for the WHO and its member states, emphasizing monitoring and information sharing.

It is less serious than “variant of concern,” which is applied to strains that are more severe, cause a substantial burden on the health system, or that vaccines are less effective against. These have Greek letter names such as delta and omicron.

High-level review meeting held

In the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases in India, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya conducted a high-level review meeting to assess the readiness of health facilities. Emphasizing vigilance against emerging strains of the coronavirus, he reiterated that the pandemic was not yet over. The minister urged states to actively monitor new COVID-19 cases, symptoms, and case severity to formulate an appropriate public health response.

Assuring states of full support from the Centre, the Health Minister underscored the necessity for collaborative efforts between the central and state governments to address the evolving situation. He emphasized the importance of staying vigilant while reassuring that there was no need for panic.

To enhance preparedness, officials were instructed to strengthen the surveillance system for whole genome sequencing of positive cases through the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) network. This would aid in tracking variants and ensuring the timely detection of newer strains, facilitating the implementation of appropriate public health measures.

Rise in the daily positivity rate in certain states

The meeting highlighted a rise in the daily positivity rate in certain states like Kerala, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Karnataka, with the country reporting over 600 cases, the highest since May 21. Regarding the new JN.1 variant of SARS-CoV-2, it was conveyed that the variant was under intense scientific scrutiny but not an immediate cause for concern, as no clustering of cases had been observed in India due to JN.1.

Dr. V K Paul, Member (Health) of NITI Aayog, emphasized that there were currently around 2300 active cases of COVID-19 in the country, attributing the upsurge to the Covid JN.1 variant. He urged against panic, mentioning that Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and Karnataka had reported cases. Over the last two weeks, 16 deaths were reported among individuals with serious co-morbidities.

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