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India has been hit by a new wave of Covid-19 cases, driven by a new subvariant known as Arcturus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is monitoring the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16 strain, which is also found in over 20 countries.

Here is what we know about XBB.1.16.

What is Arcturus?

Arcturus is the name given to the new subvariant, known as XBB.1.16.

It was first detected in late January and is a recombinant variant from BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75, two descendants of another Omicron variant BA.2.

WHO said the subvariant has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which in laboratory studies shows increased infectivity, as well as potential increased pathogenicity.

Arcturus is nearly 1.2 times as transmissible as XBB.1.5, according to a study by the University of Tokyo. However, the subvariant is not thought to be any more severe than XBB.1.5, reported British news outlet iNews.

What are the symptoms?

Some symptoms that have been reported include a fever that gradually increases and lasts for one or two days, headaches, body pain, abdominal discomfort and sore throat.

Many of those infected with the subvariant are also reporting conjunctivitis and sticky eyes. 

Which countries have the subvariant?

The subvariant was first detected in late January. It is currently found in more than 20 countries including Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

In Singapore, 28,410 Covid-19 cases were recorded in the last week of March. This is almost double the previous week’s figure of 14,467. It is not known how many of these cases are due to the new subvariant.

The Ministry of Health told CNA that the current Covid-19 infection wave is driven by a mix of XBB subvariants including XBB.1.5, XBB.1.9 and XBB.1.16. However, it added that there is currently no evidence of increased severity in the cases.

What is the situation in India?

On Wednesday, there were 40,215 active Covid-19 cases in India – up by 3,122 cases in just one day, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The new wave has prompted at least two states to reintroduce mask wearing in public places as cases in India surged to its highest weekly number in seven months, reported The Telegraph on Wednesday.

In the northern state of Haryana, face masks are mandatory in public places and schools. In the southern state of Kerala, a popular tourist destination, masks are compulsory for pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.

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