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Coronavirus: WHO Upgrades Omicron Subvariant XBB.1.16 To Covid ‘Variant Of Interest’ – Here’s What It Means

Coronavirus cases in India: Amid the continuous increase in the number of coronavirus cases in India, Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16 has been upgraded to a Covid-19 “variant of interest” (VOI) by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has taken the decision considering its “growth advantage” and “sustained increase” in several parts of the world. For those unaware, XBB.1.16 was reported for the first time on January 9, 2023. On March 22, this year it was designated a variant under monitoring (VUM).

XBB.1.16 is a descendent lineage of XBB, a recombinant of two BA.2 descendent lineages. 33 countries have reported over 3,648 sequences of the Omicron XBB.1.16 variant till now on the open research platform GISAID. Among the list of countries is India also, 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,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for Covid-19 response at WHO, said.

According to Kerkhove, the variant has shown “growth advantage and immune escape”. Adding that people and health officials need to ‘be vigilant’, Kerkhove said that XBB.1.16 can cause a full range of diseases, although “no changes in severity have been reported”.

Covid-19: What does ‘variant of interest’ mean?

A ‘variant of interest’ or VOI simply means that it may be more difficult to treat, be at risk for more severe symptoms and the rate of transmission could be more than previous variants.

Covid-19 cases in India

Meanwhile, India on Saturday recorded 12,193 fresh COVID-19 cases, driven by XBB.1.16, in a span of 24 hours. With this, the number of active cases of coronavirus infection in India has gone up to 67,556, the data provided by the Union health ministry said.

The WHO has stated the XBB.1.16-related hospitalisation in India and Indonesia has increased slightly. However, the levels are “much lower than seen in previous variant waves”.

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