Three years ago, around the same time, there were murmurs of a new disease – symptoms included a humble cold – which soon became life-threatening. Now, just as the world is getting back to a new normal shaped by the coronavirus disease or covid-19, a new variant has emerged. As news about rising cases grow, most people have a simple question: is this something they should worry about?
Earlier this month, during a routine surveillance in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, an older woman tested positive for covid-19’s new sub-variant JN.1, making her the first case in India. According to the United Nations, JN.1 is a descendent of the Omicron sub-variant known as BA.2.86 or Pirola. It was first detected in Denmark and Israel in late July and then in the United States in September.
Following the first case in Kerala, the Karnataka government made it mandatory for people above 60 to wear masks in public areas. On 27 December, Delhi reported its first case of the JN.1 variant. Currently, 109 cases of JN.1 sub-variant have been detected in India, according to Press Trust of India’s report. Most of the patients are currently in home isolation. India’s active infection number currently stands at 4,093, the health ministry reported on Wednesday.
Acknowledging the rapid increase in cases with JN.1, also detected in China and the United Kingdom, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated it as a ‘variant of interest.’ The symptoms of the JN.1 variant are similar to those of the other variants such as fever, throat pain, mild breathlessness and headache. Some have reported mild gastrointestinal symptoms.
However, in its statement, WHO emphasised that the overall risk posed by JN.1 remains low. “Despite this, with the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, JN.1 could increase the burden of respiratory infections in many countries,” WHO added. It also highlighted that current vaccines can protect against severe disease and death from JN.1, which comes as a relief for many.
As new year celebrations could be particularly challenging with the new variant spreading its wings, many states are closely monitoring the situation but have found no reason to panic. The current advice is to wear masks as well as wash and sanitise your hands frequently.