WHO tells Northern hemisphere: watch out for winter COVID as new strain detected

The Northern hemisphere has been warned to watch out for the spread of infections of COVID by the World Health Organization (WHO) with the onset on winter and the discovery of a new strain.

The warning came as WHO classified the new JN.1 coronavirus strain as a “variant of interest” this week.

In a statement the WHO said: “Due to its rapidly increasing spread, WHO is classifying the variant JN.1 as a separate variant of interest (VOI) from the parent lineage BA.2.86.  It was previously classified as VOI as part of BA.2.86 sublineages.”

“Based on the available evidence, the additional global public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low. Despite this, with the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, JN.1 could increase the burden of respiratory infections in many countries.”

The WHO says all approved Covid-19 vaccines will continue to provide protection against JN.1.

The warning also comes as India’s Kerala state has asked people to stay cautious after an increase in COVID cases.

The southern state has witnessed the increase after the detection of the JN.1 variant and currently has 1,324 COVID-19 active cases and reported four deaths from the disease.

The JN.1 sub-variant was found in Kerala earlier this month in a positive RT-PCR test sample, officials said.

It was detected as part of the ongoing routine surveillance by INSACOG, a network of laboratories that has been monitoring Covid-19 in India, they said.

Kerala’s neighbouring states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also say they are keeping a close watch on the rising cases in the state.

In a statement the Indian Council of Medical Research said: “There has been an increasing trend of Covid-19 cases from the state of Kerala since the last few weeks. This has been attributed to an increase in the number of samples from influenza-like illness (ILI) cases being referred for testing.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier this month the subvariant JN.1 makes up about an estimated 15% to 29% of cases in the United States as of 8 December, according to the agency’s latest projections.

The CDC had said currently there was no evidence that JN.1 presents an increased risk to public health relative to other currently circulating variants and an updated shot could keep Americans protected against the variant.

JN.1 was first detected in the United States in September, according to the CDC.