Source: CNA

It was reported that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is currently monitoring the new “Arcturus” Covid-19 sub-variant, which is causing a surge of cases in India recently. Arcturus has now become the number one variant in India.

The new Omicron sub-variant XBB.1.16, named Arcturus, was first detected in India in late January.

The WHO said that it has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which increases the infectivity and pathogenicity of the virus. The symptoms of XBB.1.16 are reportedly the same as previous variants but with some infected people also reporting conjunctivitis and sticky eyes.

Researchers said Arcturus is nearly 1.2 times as transmissible as XBB.1.5, the most infectious sub-variant until now.

So far, Arcturus has caused a thirteenfold surge in cases in India last month. On Wednesday (12 Apr), 40,215 active Covid-19 cases were reported in India, up by 3,122 in just one day. Two Indian states have already started reintroducing mask wearing in public places.

In Singapore, Covid-19 cases are also surging. Some 28,400 cases almost doubled in the last week of March from the previous week of 14,500. It is not known how many of these cases are caused by the new sub-variant from India.

Health Minister Ong: Understanding that rise in Covid-19 cases here caused by travellers incorrect

On Friday (14 Apr), Health Minister Ong Ye Kung tried to calm the public. He disclosed that about 30 per cent of cases here are now caused by reinfections.

While the number of hospitalised Covid-19 patients has gone up, from 80 last month to 220 currently, Mr Ong assured that this is still “far below” the figure during the peak of the pandemic. Fewer than 10 Covid-19 cases have landed in the intensive care unit at any one time over the past month, he added.

“What is happening is a clear demonstration of how far we have come in dealing with Covid-19,” he said.

“Even during a Covid-19 infection wave like now, we continue to live life normally, we’re not preoccupied over infection numbers … This is what endemicity should look like.”

Addressing comments by people who attributed the rise in Covid-19 cases here to travellers, especially those coming from India, Mr Ong said, “The understanding that this caused a rise in infections is actually incorrect.”

“The virus is endemic, which means it is always circulating within the community. In such a situation, what drives our local waves is not imported infections, but reinfections of existing individuals in the community,” he added.

“When the protection against infection from past infections or vaccination wanes over time, people do get reinfected and that causes the number of cases to rise and a new wave will emerge.”

However, he did note that the Arcturus XBB.1.16 sub-variant is now circulating in Singapore.

“Of particular interest now is XBB.1.16. It is only of particular interest because someone gave it a sexy name called Arcturus,” he said.

“But of all the variant strains now, there is not a single one that we notice is particularly dominant. There is no evidence showing that any one of them causes more severe illness.”

Nevertheless, Mr Ong did urge Singaporeans to do their part to keep themselves healthy and if they are unwell, to stay home and wear a mask.

“And if they are vulnerable groups, such as (people) aged 60 and above, get your vaccinations annually,” he added.

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