India steps up Covid surveillance as new variant spreads

India steps up Covid surveillance as new variant spreads

India has stepped up its surveillance measures amid a rise in reported cases of a new coronavirus subvariant, according to officials.

The country saw a total of 614 fresh infections, the biggest rise in the last seven months. The current spike has been attributed to Covid subvariant JN.1, labelled a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organisation on Tuesday.

Accountable for about 15 to 29 per cent of cases in the US, it was first detected in India’s southern state of Kerala on 8 December. The active cases in the country have risen to 2,311, while three deaths have been reported in Kerala, according to Indian news reports, citing data from the federal health ministry.

"Currently, there are around 2,300 active cases of Covid in the country,” said Dr VK Paul, a member of the Indian government’s public policy think tank, NITI Aayog.

“The upsurge is due to the Covid JN.1 variant. There is no need to panic. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Karnataka have cases,” he was quoted as saying by India Today, referring to the southern Indian states. “In the past two weeks, 16 deaths were reported in people with serious comorbidities.”

JN.1 was first detected in Luxembourg in August, before spreading to the US, UK, France, and other countries.

Last week, China detected seven infections of the Covid subvariant.

Covid cases are also on the rise again in England. The were 5,975 confirmed cases in England in the seven days up to 9 December, according to the most recently available data.

Reviewing the preparedness, India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya directed states to be vigilant, as he assured them of support from the centre.

"We need to be on the alert but there is no need to panic,” he said. “There should be no laxity in our preparedness. Health is not an area for any politics. The Union Health Ministry is available for every support.”

The government has sent an advisory to all the state and federal territories, asking officials to keep a strict vigil. “Considering the upcoming festive season, states are advised to put in place requisite public health measures and other arrangements to minimise the risk of increase in transmission of the disease by adherence to the maintenance of respiratory hygiene,” the document read

Meanwhile, Kerala’s health minister confirmed an increase of testing amid the spike.

“We have increased surveillance and [have] also ramped up testing,” said Veena George, according to The Times of India. “We are also regularly reviewing hospital preparedness and stocks of PPE kits and other equipment. Senior citizens, pregnant women and those with comorbidities are being advised to wear masks.”