Arcturus – How dangerous and contagious is the new Corona variant XBB.1.16

The number of new corona infections is falling sharply worldwide. In Germany, too, the danger of the pandemic seems to have been banned to some extent, with a current seven-day incidence of 27.8 and a hospitalization rate of 5.6 (as of March 31). The corona virus has not disappeared, however, because new variants and subvariants are still making headlines. The most recent example is India. A sub-variant of Omicron called XBB.1.16 has appeared there. It is also known as “Arcturus” and is responsible for a rapid increase in the number of local infections.

(Still) few corona cases in India

According to the Indian Ministry of Health, there are currently 15,208 active corona cases (as of March 31) in the country, which has a fully vaccinated rate of around 67 percent. With a population of more than 1.4 billion, the absolute numbers do not seem particularly large, but the increase over the past few days and weeks is clear. On March 21, for example, there were 6,559 active corona cases, which almost tripled in ten days.

Compared to XBB.1.5, which was considered the fastest spreading sub-variant in December 2022, XBB.1.16 is said to have a significant growth advantage. Based on the detected mutations, the new variant seems to be one that can spread extremely effectively, virologist Martin Stürmer told ZDF. And further: She probably has additional mechanisms that block the body’s immune response and can thus lead to more infections.

Experts advise prudence

Nevertheless, experts advise prudence when assessing the situation. The former head of the Indian corona task force, Dr. Randeep Guleria, quoted in the Indian media in mid-March as saying: “There is no need to panic”. So far, there have hardly been any serious cases, and appropriate behavior would reduce the risk of infection. Even with XBB.1.5, the big wave with many and especially difficult courses did not materialize.

However, it is also clear that cases have not only been reported in India, but also in other Asian countries, the USA and Europe. There have even been finds of “Arcturus” in Germany. In many cases, however, travelers from India could be identified as a source of distribution. There are no indications of more hospitalizations or even deaths from “Arcturus”. It is too early to “fall into an alarm mood”. Nevertheless, the development must be observed “very closely”, according to the virologist Stürmer.