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Covid resurgence: New XBB.1.16 variant behind surge

The XBB.1.16 variant of Covid-19 could be behind the recent surge in Covid-19 cases across the country, according to experts quoted by several reports lately. Ever since the H3N2 influenza virus made headlines, the country has witnessed a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases.

On Friday, India recorded a single-day spike of 796 Covid-19 infections, while the number of active cases crossed 5,000 after 109 days, according to Union health ministry data.

Taking the situation into consideration, the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry had on Thursday urged six states — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka — to follow strict testing, tracking, treating and vaccinations.

Now, experts believe that XBB.1.16, a descendant of the XBB.1 variant, could be behind the recent spike which is being witnessed at a time when several other viruses such as H3N2 and adenovirus are circulating in the atmosphere.

Dr Vipin M Vashishtha, a member of WHO’s Vaccine Safety Net, said in a tweet on March 15, “New Covid variant, XBB.1.16 could be behind the fresh spike in India. This new sublineage of XBB is spreading fast in 4 countries, but India is the epicentre. The next few weeks are crucial to decide its future course.”

What is XBB.1.16?
The Times of India quoted an expert from India’s genome sequencing network as saying that the XBB.1.16 variant “has not descended from XBB.1.5, but both have descended from the recombinant ancestor XBB and more recently XBB.1”.

Which Covid-19 variant is dominant in India right now?
It is known that the XBB is currently dominating India. However, the latest uptick in Covid-19 cases “could be a result of XBB.1.16 and perhaps XBB.1.5, but a few more sample runs would clear the picture”, the expert said.

“It is also possible that XBB.1.16 may have originated in India,” the expert was quoted as saying.

How many cases of XBB.1.16 does India have?
India currently has 48 sequenced samples of this sublineage, as per covSPECTRUM, an international platform tracking Covid variants, News 18 reported. The platform accesses GISAID data and helps scientists identify variants of SARS-CoV-2.

According to an international platform tracking Covid variants, the highest number of this sublineage’s sequences have come from India (48), followed by Brunei (22), the United States (15) and Singapore (14). CNBCTV18

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