India’s Union Health Ministry has asked states to be “on alert” and monitoring given a “slight upsurge” in Covid cases, which includes rising infections in Kerala.

Senior officials of the Ministry say, “no new variant has been detected” so far and the existing JN.1 variant, which is causing the spike in the southern Indian state is of the BA.2.86 lineage.

Kerala currently has 1,324 Covid-19 active cases and reported four deaths from the disease on Saturday. Officials have attributed this to the high testing rate in the state. But it’s not clear how many of these cases are related to JN.1

The presence of the JN.1 sub-variant was confirmed by the Union Health Ministry on December 16. The World Health Organization (WHO) says all approved Covid-19 vaccines will continue to provide protection against JN.1.

The JN.1, currently considered as a variant of interest by the WHO, emerged in “late 2023”, as per a Health Ministry document and is “decedent of the BA.2.86 lineage (Pirola)”. The lineage was identified in August and is phylogenetically distinct from the Omicron XBB variants.

So far, the variant has been reported in Singapore, China and the USA, apart from India. Previously a traveller from Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirappalli was detected with the variant, but in Singapore; while seven cases of the infection have been reported in China.

Karnataka on the other hand has brought back the mask mandate for senior citizens and those with co-morbidities, that is use of masks in public places in mandatory for these people. The state is also “on high alert” and is on course to procure test kits, PPEs, masks, and other precautionary items.

Advisory to States

The Centre in its advisory has asked state governments to “maintain a state of constant vigil” while reporting and monitoring district-wise SARI (Severe Acute Respiratory Illness) and ILI (Influenza Like Illness) cases regularly.

States have also been asked to put in place the monitoring mechanism, ensure adequate testing in all the districts and maintain the recommended share of RT-PCR and Antigen tests. States have also been asked to send the positive samples for genome sequencing to Indian SARS COV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) laboratories to enable timely detection of new variants, if any”.

“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 Ministry wrote in a letter to the State governments.

Mock drills across government-run and private hospitals are to be carried out too as a part of the preparedness drive.

States have also been asked to promote community awareness.