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Coronavirus Outbreak

Highly Mutated COVID Variant ‘BA.2.86’ Found In New Countries: WHO

A dozen scientists around the world said while it was important to monitor BA.2.86, it was unlikely to cause a devastating wave of severe disease and death given immune defenses built up worldwide from vaccination and prior infection

Highly Mutated COVID Variant 'BA.2.86' Found In New Countries But Pandemic In A Different Phase: WHO
Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at the WHO, said in her first interview regarding BA.2.86 that it is still low numbers

London: A highly mutated COVID variant called BA.2.86 has now been detected in Switzerland and South Africa in addition to Israel, Denmark, the U.S. and the U.K., according to a leading World Health Organization official. The Omicron offshoot carries more than 35 mutations in key portions of the virus compared with XBB.1.5, the dominant variant through most of 2023 – a number roughly on par with the Omicron variant that caused record infections compared to its predecessor.

Also Read: Genetic Variant In Immune System Could Be Behind Asymptomatic Covid Infection: Study

It was first spotted in Denmark on July 24 after the virus infecting a patient at risk of becoming severely ill was sequenced. It has since been detected in other symptomatic patients, in routine airport screening, and in wastewater samples in a handful of countries.

A dozen scientists around the world said while it was important to monitor BA.2.86, it was unlikely to cause a devastating wave of severe disease and death given immune defenses built up worldwide from vaccination and prior infection. Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at the WHO, said in her first interview regarding BA.2.86, said,

It’s still low numbers

That the known cases are not linked suggests it is already circulating more widely, particularly given reduced surveillance worldwide, she said.

Also Read: “We Are Tracking Several COVID-19 Variants, Including EG.5,” Says WHO Director Dr Tedros

Scientists are testing how well updated COVID-19 vaccines will work against BA.2.86. Kerkhove noted that vaccines have been better at preventing severe illness and death than re-infection. Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist who advises the WHO, said

We are in a very different phase (of the pandemic) than if this popped up in the first year.

Dr. Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency and others spotted the new variant last week, held meetings with scientists throughout the weekend, and issued a risk assessment on Wednesday. There have been nine such cases detected as of Aug. 23 and the variant was also found in wastewater in Switzerland.

It appears that current tests and medications remain effective against BA.2.86, although the variant may be more capable of causing infection in vaccinated people and those who have had COVID previously, the assessment said. There is no evidence yet that it is causing more severe illness.

Still, the potential risk must be taken seriously, experts said, and surveillance must continue, if not at levels undertaken at the pandemic’s peak. adding that the coronavirus continues to circulate, evolve, infect and kill people, Van Kerkhove said,

Governments cannot drop the ball.

Also Read: Vaccine ‘Accessory’ Found To Stop Covid Infection In The Nasal Tract: Study

Testing Down 90 Per Cent

Another COVID subvariant called EG.5 already has some people on high alert in the U.S. Pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid told Reuters on-site molecular tests and sales of at-home tests increased in recent weeks.

How much surveillance is needed to track the virus remains an open question, health experts said, and the countries that have detected the new variant all have strong genomic sequencing capacity. As of December 2022, 84 per cent of countries could sequence Sars-CoV-2 in-country, according to WHO figures.

But data submitted to the international database, GISAID, has fallen dramatically. In the first week of Omicron, more than 200,000 coronavirus sequences were submitted. Last week, it was around 20,000.Tyra Grove Krause, a Danish epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Insitut which identified three BA.2.86 cases, said,

When we do sequencing now, it’s like (finding) a needle in a haystack.

Also Read: Researchers Create New Rapid, Reliable Detection Method For Coronavirus

The WHO said COVID testing has declined by 90 per cent worldwide from the peak. Testing has also plummeted in the U.S., and sequencing is down by around 90 per cent, said Dr. Ashish Jha, who served as White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator until June 2023.

Data from hospital admissions, emergency room visits, deaths, wastewater sampling and sequencing, including at airports, has helped fill in the global picture, he said.

Dr Jha and others, including the European public health agency and COVAX, the global program for getting vaccines to the world’s poorest, said COVID surveillance and defenses could be reactivated in the event of a major infection wave. Dr Jha added,

It would take resources; it would take will; it would take people deciding this is important to do. But we’ve largely figured out how.

Also Read: India Logs 56 Fresh Coronavirus Cases, Two Fatalities Reported From Kerala And Maharashtra

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – theLGBTQ population,indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fightmalnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health,adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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