The highest proportional increase of new COVID cases was observed in India, in the Southeast Asia Region, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest data for February 27 to March 26, 2023.
Globally, however, nearly 3.6 million new cases and over 25,000 deaths were reported in the same period, a decrease of 27% and 39%, respectively, compared to the previous 28 days.
“Despite this overall downward trend, it is important to note that several countries have recently reported significant increase in cases. As of 26 March, over 761 million confirmed cases and over 6.8 million deaths have been reported globally,” said WHO.
In the Southeast Asia region, India (18,130 new cases; 1.3 new cases per 1,00,000; +437%) is followed by Indonesia (8,405 new cases; 3.1 new cases per 1,00,000; +39%), and Thailand (597 new cases as per the data).
The WHO noted that the Southeast Asia Region reported over 27,000 new cases, a 152% increase as compared to the previous 28-day period. Seven (64%) of the 11 countries in the region for which data are available, reported increase in new cases of 20% or greater, the WHO said.
It added that currently, it is closely tracking one variant of interest (VOI) – XBB.1.5 – and six variants under monitoring (VUMs). The VUMs are BQ.1, BA.2.75, CH.1.1, XBB, XBF and XBB.1.16; XBB.1.16 was added to this list on March 22.
‘New variant responsible’
XBB.1.16, the new Omicron variant, is responsible for the spike in India. As per the WHO, this variant is a recombinant of BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 and has three additional mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (E180V, F486P and K478R) compared to its parent lineage XBB.
“The F486P mutation is shared with XBB.1.5. Mutations at position 478 of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein have been associated with decreased antibody neutralization, increased transmissibility, and pathogenicity,’’ it said.
The WHO added that as of March 27, 712 XBB.1.16 sequences have been reported from 21 countries. However, so far, reports do not indicate a rise in hospitalisations, ICU admissions, or deaths due to XBB.1.16.
Further, there are currently no reported laboratory studies on markers of disease severity for XBB.1.16. Globally, XBB.1.5 accounts for 45.1% of cases in epidemiological week 10 (6 to 12 March 2023) compared to 35.6% in week 6 (6 to 12 February 2023).
However, WHO cautioned that the current trends describing the circulation of variants should be interpreted with due consideration of the limitations of the COVID-19 surveillance systems.
“These include differences in sequencing capacity and sampling strategies between countries, changes in sampling strategies over time, reductions in tests conducted and sequences shared by countries, and delays in uploading sequence data,” it said.