A cluster of new COVID-19 variants named FLiRT has emerged, linked to cases in the U.S., U.K., and other countries. 

About the new Variants:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a new turn with the emergence of FLiRT variants (KP.2 and KP1.1), which are sublineages of the Omicron JN.1 variant. 
  • These new set of variants are known as the FLiRT, because of their technical nomenclature (F is changed to L at position 456 and R to T at place 346) and it refers to two different mutations that, when combined, give the virus more invasive properties.
  • These variants represent a cyclical pattern of COVID-19, indicating that the disease may become cyclical rather than endemic.
  • These variants, named after their specific spike mutations, have been linked to a surge in cases in several countries like the U.S., U.K., South Korea, New Zealand, and India. 
  • India’s INSACOG consortium has reported 238 cases of KP.2 and 30 cases of KP1.1 as of May 6, 2024, indicating their presence within the country.

Concerns related to FLiRT:

  • One of the major concerns regarding FLiRT variants, particularly KP.2, is that they appear to be more easily transmissible than JN.1. 
  • Studies have suggested that KP.2 might be capable of evading immunity that was previously acquired from JN.1 infections, as well as from the latest vaccines. 
  • This underscores the importance of ongoing genomic surveillance so that we can track the development of new variants and potentially update vaccines to target them.

Impact on India: 

  • India, like many other countries, has witnessed a surge in COVID-19 cases since April 2024.
  • While the exact contribution of FLiRT variants to this increase remains unclear but their presence necessitates more vigilance.
  • The virus makes respiratory illnesses including the common cold, allergies, and rhinoviruses more likely throughout the summer thus demanding more resources to tackle it. 
  • New research also highlights the subtle but persistent health effects of long-term COVID, such as exhaustion, disorientation, and brain fog.
  • Vaccination with the latest SARS-CoV-2 vaccines is still considered the most effective measure to prevent severe illness from COVID-19, regardless of the circulating variant.

Way Forward:

  • This underscores the importance of ongoing genomic surveillance so that we can track the development of new variants and potentially update vaccines to target them.
  • As the virus is expected to recur in periodic waves, the focus should shift from eradicating it to its effective management. 
  • This involves continual monitoring of new variants, adapting preventive measures based on up-to-date information, and giving priority to safeguarding vulnerable groups.


The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) is a crucial player in India’s fight against COVID-19. Established in December 2020 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, it functions as a multi-agency, multi-laboratory network for genomic sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Core Functions:

  • Genome Sequencing: INSACOG oversees a network of 54 laboratories across India engaged in whole genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 virus samples. 
  • This allows for the identification of specific mutations and the tracking of emerging variants.
  • Variant Monitoring: By analyzing the sequence data, INSACOG monitors the circulation and evolution of different COVID-19 variants in India. 
  • This information is vital for understanding the potential impact of these variants on transmissibility, vaccine effectiveness, and disease severity.
  • Data Sharing and Analysis: INSACOG facilitates data sharing and analysis between laboratories and public health agencies. 
  • This collaborative approach ensures a comprehensive understanding of the national variant landscape.
  • Public Health Guidance: Based on the insights gained from genome sequencing, INSACOG informs public health policies and interventions. 
  • This may include recommendations for targeted testing, containment measures, and vaccine strategies.

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