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CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: WHO warns of new Omicron variant, XE

The World Health Organization has identified a new covid-19 variant, XE, which is a combination of Omicron and the sub-variant BA.2.

Update:
Residents wait in a line to be tested for the Covid-19 coronavirus during the second stage of a pandemic lockdown in Jing' an district in Shanghai on April 4, 2022.
HECTOR RETAMALAFP

While many countries are gradually loosening coronavirus restrictions and the world continues to return to some semblance of normality after two years of the covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning not to let the global guard down yet following the discovery of another new variant. The novel coronavirus has mutated several times since SARSCoV2 first emerged in Wuhan in 2020, most recently the Omicron strain sweeping the globe in the wake of the Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma variants.

The WHO has confirmed the existence of three new mutations, designated as XD, XF and XE. The latter strain has been found to be a combination of Omicron and its sublineage BA.2, and is the one that the WHO is keeping a closer eye on. XD and XF are combinations of Omicron and Delta – the so-called Deltacron variant.

Covid variant XE more transmissible than Omicron

The XE variant was first detected in the UK on 19 January. Since then, there have been 637 confirmed cases and the strain has been identified in Thailand and Israel. Initial date suggests XE spreads 10% more rapidly than stealthy Omicron (BA.2), which until now is the most transmissible variant recorded. If the numbers are confirmed, in the absence of more extensive research, XE will take Omicron’s place as the fastest spreading variant yet detected.

Omicron has officially been designated the most contagious virus variant in history, with the BA.2 sublineage registering as 70% more infectious than its original version. The WHO is awaiting an evaluation of the transmission rate and seriousness of the XE hybrid strain, which until further studies have been carried out will be considered a variant of Omicron.

The WHO report on XE states that “initial estimates indicate a community growth rate advantage of 10% compared to BA.2. However, this finding requires further confirmation.

Pending further investigation, it has not been confirmed whether XE produces symptoms that differ from previous variants, such as a cough, a sore throat and a runny nose.

“The WHO continues to closely monitor and assess the public health risk associated with recombinant variants, along with other variants of SARS-CoV-2,” the WHO stated in its report. The organization’s Health Emergencies Programme director, Mike Ryan, added: “They are usually not viable because of the huge changes in their genetic codes.”

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