After Kerala has seen a slight rise in new Covid cases with detection of one case of new JN.1 variant in last week, the center on Monday asked states and union territories to maintain constant vigil amid an uptick in the country. “As the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate and its epidemiology behaviour gets settled with Indian weather conditions and circulation of other usual pathogens, it is important to keep the momentum going to effectively deal with the challenges in public health,” Union Health Secretary Sudhansh Pant said in a letter to all states and UTs. Mr Pant will also review the preparedness of the states against Covid with health ministers and Principal Secretaries on Wednesday.
The first case of sub-variant JN.1 was detected in a 79-year-old woman from Kerala as part of an ongoing routine surveillance activity of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) on Saturday. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to keep strong surveillance on Covid-19 cases and continue sharing genome-sequencing data.
Meanwhile, the states have been urged to ensure effective compliance of the detailed operational guidelines for revised surveillance strategy for COVID-19 as has been shared by the Union health ministry. They have asked to monitor and report district-wise cases of Influenza-like Illness (ILI) and Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (SARI) in all health facilities regularly for early detection of rising trend of cases.
Considering the upcoming festive season, Mr Pant has asked states to put in place requisite public health measures and other arrangements to minimise the risk of transmission of the disease. States were also advised to ensure adequate testing in all districts as per COVID-19 testing guidelines and maintain the recommended share of RT-PCR and antigen tests.
In his letter, Mr Pant also stressed the need to increase the number of RT-PCR tests and send positive samples for genome sequencing to Indian SARS COV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) laboratories to enable timely detection of new variants, if any, in the country. He said that JN.1 (BA.220.127.116.11) emerged in late 2023 and is a descendant of the BA.2.86 lineage (Pirola) of SARS COV2. The BA.2.86 lineage, first identified in August 2023, is phylogenetically distinct from the circulating SARS-CoV-2 Omicron XBB lineages, including EG.5.1 and HK.3. BA.2.86 carries more than 30 mutations in the spike (5) protein, indicating a high potential for immune evasion, he said in the letter.
In another development, the Karnataka government on Monday asked those above 60-years of age, with comorbidities, and symptoms of cough, phlegm and fever to mandatorily wear face masks, in the wake of detection of sub-variant JN.1 in Kerala.