New COVID variant raises concern; Arcturus in 34 countries

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OPINIONS VARY ON MUTANT … EPIDEMIOLOGICAL CURVE HERE STABLE

KUWAIT CITY, May 4: There has been renewed talk about the COVID-19 virus and its threat to health as well as the possibility of the return of some preventive measures following the alarming spread of the new mutant “Arcturus” (XBB.1.16), and the decision taken by some countries such as India to compel its citizens to wear masks again, reports Al-Rai daily. Opinions vary globally regarding the new variant. Some experts classify it as “highly contagious” and may lead to a new wave of the epidemic. Others say there is no clear evidence that it is more dangerous than the previous and the currently prevalent variants in terms of death rates or hospital admissions.

In this regard, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the spread of the new variant around the world in the near future, stating that it spreads at an estimated 1.17 to 1.27 times more efficiently than the “Kraken” variant, which is another variant of the “Omicron” strain. In this context, the Head of the World Health Organization’s Main Advisory Group of Experts for Vaccines and Immunization Stephen Griffin stressed the need to bring back the PCR tests and wear masks due to the high prevalence rates of the new variant. He told Mail Online, “It may seem like a return to where we were last year.”

British experts also urged the need for people to start wearing masks in public places and transportation again in light of the severity of the infection of the new variant. In terms of the local situation, health sources revealed, “The relevant sectors of the ministry are closely following up the developments of the new variant and its global prevalence rates.”

They said, “The emergence of mutants is expected. The criteria for evaluating any new variant include its severity, rate of spread, cases of infection resulting from it, and the rate of hospitalization. However, there is nothing to worry about in light of the continued stability of the epidemiological curve in the country. Nevertheless, we always recommend adherence to prevention guidelines and sound health habits, including frequent washing and disinfecting of hands, covering the mouth and nose in crowded and closed places, and avoiding contact with others in the event of appearance of the symptoms of infectious respiratory diseases and the continuation of precaution and prevention during movement and travel.” The new variant Arcturus was first identified in the month of January 2023. It has been monitored by the World Health Organization since the end of March.

The number of countries where the new variant has been registered has reached about 34 so far, including India, the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, Australia and Canada. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical chief for COVID-19 at the World Health Organization said, “The Arcturus mutant is one of more than 600 submutants produced from Omicron.”

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