WHO Declares New COVID-19 Strain Variant of Interest

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a new strain of Covid-19 as a variant of interest.

However, the organisation said the new COVID-19 variant does not constitute high public health risk.

The variant, known as EG.5 or “Eris”, is related to an Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.9.2, and is growing in prevalence globally.

Among the countries where the new strain has been found are the UK, China and United States

WHO said the variant does not pose a particular threat, adding that, “based on the available evidence, the public health risk posed by EG.5 is evaluated as low at the global level.”

According to WHO, the risk associated with this new COVID-19 strain appeared to be at par with other circulating variants of interest.

“While EG.5 has shown increased prevalence, growth advantage, and immune escape properties, there have been no reported changes in disease severity to date,” the WHO added.

WHO listed a number of actions it recommended member states prioritise to better understand antibody escape and severity of EG.5, including monitoring for changes in indicators of severity.

Professor of operational research at University College London, Christina Pagel, was quoted as having said that while the variant was growing in prevalence and appeared to be better at evading the immune system, allowing it to outcompete other variants, there was no evidence that it caused more severe disease.

“It will probably cause a wave of more cases and all the problems that brings – such as more hospitalisations and Long Covid– but there is no reason at the moment to think that will be worse than previous waves this year,” she said.

Pagel also noted that waning immunity, whether from vaccinations or previous infections may mean the wave of EG.5 took longer to peak and hence could be larger.

Another professor, a virologist at the University of Leeds, Prof. Stephen Griffin, was also quoted as saying that while the prevalence of the variant was increasing relatively slowly in the UK, its infectiousness and ability to evade antibodies meant that the number of cases could grow more rapidly when schools return and people go back to work and university after the summer.

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