December 20, 2023: As per the latest development, the COVID-19 virus is making a comeback in the form of a new variant, sparking concerns among health officials and the public alike. The central government has issued advisories to all states, especially focusing on Kerala, where a surge in infections has been reported.
On December 8, the first case of a new sub-variant, JN.1 (BA.188.8.131.52), was identified in Kerala, signaling a potential resurgence of health risks after two years since India’s last pandemic-related lockdown. This variant is considered a descendant of an Omicron sub-variant and is raising concerns due to its heightened potential to evade immunity acquired through prior vaccination or infection.
In response to this development, Union Health Secretary Sudhansh Pant issued a letter urging states and Union territories to enforce more stringent public health measures. While acknowledging the successful collaboration between the central and state governments in maintaining low infection rates, Pant emphasized the necessity of remaining vigilant over the evolving COVID situation.
The Central Government has urged states to strictly adhere to operational guidelines for COVID-19 surveillance and ensure comprehensive testing across all districts. Health facilities are instructed to routinely monitor and report cases of influenza-like illness and severe acute respiratory illness, utilizing the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP) portal to detect early trends in case numbers.
To identify new variants, states have been instructed to send positive samples for genome sequencing to Indian SARS COV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) laboratories. Additionally, states are expected to ensure the active participation of all public and private health facilities in a preparedness and response capacity drill organized by the Union Health Ministry.
In response to the presence of the new COVID-19 variant in Kerala, the Karnataka state Government has mandated the use of masks in public for individuals aged 60 and above and those with comorbidities. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified JN.1 as a ‘variant of interest,’ and it has been detected in the United States, China, Singapore, and India.
As the nation grapples with the emergence of the JN.1 variant, the focus is on collective efforts to adapt to the evolving epidemiological behavior of the virus and address public health challenges effectively.