Arcturus is the latest coronavirus variant to rage across the world, leading to rising cases and increasing warnings from scientists.
Scientists believe that the Arcturus variant may soon be the dominant strain, as they fear the Omicron subvariant could be more aggressive than previous strains due to its spike protein mutations.
Arcturus has also been found to cause a rare new symptom in children: conjunctivitis.
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India is currently experiencing a spike in the rate of infections – 11,109 new Covid infections this week – which scientists say is due to the Arcturus variant.
The Covid strain has now been found in 22 countries, but with fewer than 100 confirmed cases in the UK, it may not be time to panic just yet.
Speaking to The Independent, University of Warwick virologist Professor Lawrence Young explained that Arcturus is a sign that “we’re not over the hill yet”.
“We have to keep an eye on that,” Young said.
“When a new variant emerges, do you have to find out if it’s more contagious, more disease-causing, more pathogenic?
“Things like this underscore the importance of genomic surveillance, but many countries, including our own, have lowered our vigilance a little…”
Young ended with realistic advice: “…we can’t be sure what variants exist and what level of infection they cause until we see a significant outbreak.”
Countries slacking off their “guard” refer to data analyzed by The Independent, which shows testing, vaccination and tracing capacities have been significantly reduced.
This means many would be unprepared if another deadly strain of Covid struck, with another lockdown looming.
Testing in Europe fell from 613 daily tests per 1,000 people in early 2022 to negligible levels by July, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Date project.
Although more than five billion people around the world have received a Covid vaccination, it has been reported that in just a few months the effectiveness of vaccinations against infection is falling significantly.
Booster vaccination schedules allow target groups such as the elderly and the immunocompromised to remain protected from infection.
Yet 30% of the world population (largely in the Global South) is not yet vaccinated against Covid.
Contact tracing has also been significantly reduced, making it impossible to effectively monitor the spread of new outbreaks.
The UK government halted “Test and Trace” – its own Covid surveillance program – in early 2022 despite protests from experts.
The public can only hope that the Arcturus variant will follow the path of other newer strains and not evolve into another deadly spread.
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