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ICMR working on genome sequencing of new JN.1 variant of SARS-CoV-2: Officials

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NEW DELHI: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is working on genome sequencing of the new JN.1 variant of SARS-CoV-2, Union Health Ministry officials said on Wednesday.

Twenty-one cases of COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1 have been detected across the country till now, NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V K Paul said on Wednesday.

He said the scientific community in India was closely investigating the new variant as he emphasised on the need for states to ramp up testing and strengthen their surveillance mechanism.

According to official sources, 19 cases of COVID-19 sub-variant JN.1 have been traced in Goa and one each in Kerala and Maharashtra. Over the past two weeks, 16 deaths related to COVID-19 were recorded with the victims having serious comorbidities.

Amid a rise in Covid cases in the country, Paul highlighted that about 91 to 92 per cent of those infected are opting for home-based treatment indicating mild illness.

No increase in hospitalisation rate has been witnessed due to COVID-19.

People who are being hospitalised are due to other medical conditions and “COVID-19 is an incidental finding”, officials stated.

JN.1 (BA.2.86.1.1) variant emerged in late 2023 and is descendant of the BA.2.86 lineage (Pirola) of SARS-CoV-2.

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, the ministry said.

JN.1 is currently considered a variant of interest (VOI) by WHO.

As far as geographical distribution is concerned, the JN.1 variant has been reported in the USA, China, Singapore, India and constitutes a modest-yet-notable percentage, projected to potentially encompass 15-29 per cent of circulating variants within the United States.

It is not currently known whether JN.1 infection produces different symptoms from other variants. In general, symptoms of COVID-19 tend to be similar across variants, they stated.

There is no indication of increased severity from JN.1. At this time, there is no evidence that JN.1 presents an increased risk to public health relative to other currently circulating variants, the officials said.

Current laboratory tests (RT-PCR) is effective for JN.1 detection. Existing treatment line for COVID-19 is expected to be effective against JN.1 infection and updated COVID-19 vaccines are expected to increase protection against JN.1 as they do for other variants, the ministry had said on Monday. (PTI)

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