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India asks states to increase Covid vigil
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India asks states to increase Covid vigil

Days after a new Covid subvariant was traced in Kerala, all states have been asked to conduct RT-PCR tests on those with typical symptoms of the infectious disease
Center issues advisory to states over JN.1 subvariant of COVID
People getting tested for Covid infection at an RT-PCR test camp in Bangalore in August 2020. (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health)

Within a week of a new Covid variant being found in circulation in an infected individual in Kerala, India’s health ministry has issued an advisory to all states and Union territories, urging them to maintain a constant vigil over the situation.

The first case of the JN.1 subvariant — a mutation of the BA.2.86 subvariant (Pirola), which was a highly mutated variant of the Omicron strain of SARS-CoV2 — was traced in Kerala during genomic sequencing in the second week of December.

The JN.1 subvariant has been spreading fast in countries like the US, China and Singapore. It has been found to be highly immune-evasive.

Indian government’s advisory to states

The Union Health Ministry advisory mentions that a few states like Kerala have reported a slight upsurge in Covid recently. It has suggested a list of actions that state governments must focus on.

“Considering the upcoming festive season, there is a need to put in place requisite public health measures and other arrangements to minimize the risk of increase in transmission of the disease by adherence to the maintenance of respiratory hygiene,” the advisory says.

It mentions the following measures to be taken up by the state governments:

  • Monitoring and reporting of district-wise influenza-like illnesses (ILIs) and severe acute respiratory illness (SARI) in health facilities regularly. This can detect an early rising trend of cases.
  • Ensure adequate testing in all the districts as per Covid-19 testing guidelines and maintain the recommended share of RT-PCR tests and antigen tests.
  • Ensure a higher number of RT-PCR tests and send positive samples for genomic sequencing to Indian SARS CoV2 Genomic Consortium (INSACOG) labs to enable timely detection of any new variants.
  • Mock drills are to be conducted in all public and private hospitals to take stock of their preparedness and response capacities.
  • Promote community awareness to seek continued support in managing Covid-19, including adherence to respiratory hygiene.

No indication of severity due to JN.I subvariant

The advisory says that the first JN.1 subvariant case was detected in a sample taken from a 79-year-old woman with mild symptoms in Kerala. “Earlier, a traveler from Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirappalli district has been detected with JN.1 subvariant in Singapore,” it said. “It’s not currently known whether JN.1 infection produces different symptoms from other variants. There is no indication of increased severity from JN.1.”

The states have been told that the existing treatment line for Covid-19 is expected to be effective against JN.1 infection.

Karnataka tightens surveillance in Kerala border

Following the Centre’s advisory, Karnataka has tightened its surveillance measures in border areas adjoining Kerala. “There is no need to impose restrictions against travel or congregation at present,” said Karnataka health minister Dinesh Gundu Rao. “The situation needs to be monitored. It is important to stay vigilant. The Covid-19 technical advisory committee in Karnataka will soon come up with its report.”

He added that people with comorbidities must be cautious in following respiratory hygiene and should not ignore Covid symptoms. “Persons with comorbidities [and] senior citizens must wear a mask to safeguard themselves while in public places,” he said.

Karnataka has already started health screening for passengers travelling by road in the border areas of Kodagu and Chamarajpet districts.

Takeaways

Following the detection of the first case of the JN.1 subvariant of Covid in India and a slight upsurge in cases of the infectious disease, the Indian government has issued an advisory to states, urging them to maintain a constant vigil over the situation. The states have been asked to ensure that an adequate number of RT-PCR tests are conducted on those with typical symptoms of Covid, to submit reports of severe acute respiratory illness and influenza-like illness regularly. Besides, RT-PCR-positive samples are to be sent for genomic sequencing to INSACOG labs.

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