Friday, January 27, 2023

WHO ‘really concerned’ about surge in Covid cases

The World Health Organisation says it is concerned about “risk to life” in China amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, while in Europe and the US the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 is spreading rapidly.
On Wednesday, the WHO confirmed XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible variant so far, but said so far it did not appear to cause more serious illness.
Scientists say XBB.1.5 is about as good at dodging antibodies from vaccines and infection as its XBB and XBB.1 relatives, which were two of the most immune evasive subvariants yet. But XBB.1.5 has a mutation that makes it bind more tightly to cells, which gives it a growth advantage.
It evolved from the XBB variant of Omicron, itself a fusion of two different BA.2 variants – BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75.
Speaking at a news conference, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency was “following closely and assessing the risk” of XBB.1.5.
“We are really concerned about the current COVID-19 epidemiological picture, with both intense transmission in several parts of the world and a recombinant subvariant spreading quickly.” More than 40% of COVID cases in the US are now caused by the XBB.1.5 variant and scientists have warned it could be the one to “watch out for” this year.
It was originally detected in October 2022 and has now been identified in more than 25 countries, including the UK.
Dr Tedros said the WHO had reiterated to China “the importance of vaccination, including booster doses to protect against hospitalisation, severe disease and death”.
“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” he said. China’s recent COVID-19 outbreak is predominantly led by the Omicron subvariants BA.5.2 and BF.7, which together account for 97.5% of all local infections.
The WHO said this data, provided by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was in line with genomes from travellers from China submitted by other countries.
No new variant or mutation of known significance was noted in the data.
On Saturday, England joined a growing list of countries demanding a pre-departure negative COVID test for travellers from China.
WHO has warned that China is under-representing the true impact of Covid in the country – in particular deaths. The removal of most restrictions last month has led to a surge in cases.
But China has stopped publishing daily cases data, and has announced only 22 Covid deaths since December, using its own strict criteria. “We believe that definition [of a Covid death] is too narrow,” WHO emergencies director Dr Michael Ryan said.

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