New Covid variants XBB.1.5, EG.5 and BA.2.86 have led to a resurgence in cases of Covid-19, particularly in the US, Europe and Asia. In late August, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) first reported an increase in transmission of COVID-19 in the countries, particularly among people aged 80 and over.
Again in September, the ECDC raised concern over the “noticeable increase in signals of SARS-CoV-2 transmission” in European countries, among people aged 65 and older. The agency said the rise in cases deviates from previously very low levels, and as per data from 24 countries, there has been a rise in the 14-day case rate.
Hospitalisation and intensive care unit admission levels were stable, but a few countries reported a rise in death rates from COVID-19, especially among older people. In total, 135 deaths were reported by 18 countries.“SARS-CoV-2 continues to acquire mutations that enable its circulation at unpredictable times throughout the year.
Recent transmission increases have coincided with the emergence of Omicron sub-lineages, particularly the XBB.1.5-like variants,” the ECDC said in its latest epidemiological report.“While global case detections of BA.2.86 are limited, low-level community transmission is suspected in multiple countries. BA.2.86 is highly divergent from currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains, raising concerns of increased re-infections if it outcompetes existing variants,” it added.
Particularly affected is the UK, which is seeing a significant rise in Covid cases owing to both BA.2.86 and EG.5. A recent update by the UK Health Security Agency (HSA), showed that of the new 34 cases of BA.2.86, 28 were reported from a single elderly care home in Norfolk -- an early indicator that the variant may be sufficiently transmissible to have impact in close contact settings.
In recent weeks, there have been four studies from the US, China and Sweden that claim that BA.2.86 is not severe.
These confirmed that the subvariant is less contagious as well as immune evasive and also less transmissible than XBB and EG variants.“The news is better than I was expecting, and makes me more encouraged that the new upcoming vaccine will have a real benefit against the current dominant variant (EG.5) as well as BA.2.86,” Dr. Ashish Jha, former White House Covid-19 response coordinator, in a post on X.“One possible scenario is BA.2.86 is less transmissible than current variants, and so never spreads widely,” evolutionary biologist Dr. Jesse Bloom, from the Fred Hutch Cancer Centre in the US was quoted as saying to The New York Times.“However, there is also a chance that the variant will spread widely -- and we will just have to wait for more data to know.”
Meanwhile in Asia, Japan and South Korea have also confirmed the presence of BA.2.86. Some have also found it to be wastewater samples. Earlier in August, Singapore’s health ministry said about 18 per cent of COVID-19 community cases in the country were infected with Eris. Several countries, including the UK, France, and Singapore plan to launch vaccinations, as the US, to tackle the new variants. The new Covid vaccines target the XBB.1.5 variant, which was dominant when vaccine makers began to formulate and test a new version drug maker Moderna said that its updated Covid-19 vaccine contains spike proteins for the XBB.1.5 sublineage of SARS-CoV-2 to help prevent the disease in individuals 6 months of age and older.