First person dies with new Covid variant as cases rise globally

First Arcturus fatality recorded in Thailand yesterday

Emily Atkinson
Thursday 20 April 2023 18:17 BST
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Arcturus: What is the new Covid variant causing a surge in cases?

The new Covid variant concerning experts worldwide has claimed its first victim, health officials have announced.

The first death from the Arcturus strain, thought to be around 1.2 times more infectious than the last major sub-variant, was recorded in Thailand yesterday, amid a surge in cases across the globe.

Dr Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Medical Sciences Department, revealed today that it was an unnamed elderly man died from the new variant.

He told Thailand’s PBS news station that the man who died was “an elderly foreigner” with underlying health conditions.

“His death, therefore, may not directly reflect the severity of this subvariant but rather its impact on other risk factors,” he added.

Dr Sirilak also revealed that 27 cases had been detected across Thailand so far.

Prof Yong Poovorawan, who heads the Centre of Excellence in Clinical Virology at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, told the broadcaster that Arcturus would likely become Thailand’s dominant subvariant soon.

He said that between 9 and 15 April, the number of patients hospitalised with the virus was up two and a half times on the previous week.

Also known as Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, the strain was first identified in January and has been monitored by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 22 March.

Addressing Arcturus’s emergence at a press conference on 29 March, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid, said: “It’s been in circulation for a few months.

“We haven’t seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that’s why we have these systems in place. It has one additional mutation in the spike protein, which, in lab studies, shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity.”

The subvariant, one of 600 spawned from Omicron so far but seemingly no more lethal than others, has been detected in 22 countries so far, including the UK and US.

In India, the country’s health ministry reported 40,215 active Covid cases on 12 April, up by 3,122 in just one day, prompting compulsory face masks to be introduced in some states, hospitals to carry out mock drills and vaccine production to be ramped up.

Around 50 cases have been detected in the UK so far, but Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said it was too soon to say that Britain could face a fresh surge in infections driven by Arcturus.

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