August 10, 2023

COVID-19: WHO confirms EG.5 new variant of interest


*Says it does not appear to threaten public health

By Sola Ogundipe

The World Health Organization, WHO, cautions that a new strain known as EG.5 has been recognized as a “variant of interest” even though it claims that the number of COVID-19 recorded cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities globally has continued to fall.

In addition to other nations, the fast-spreading version is currently circulating in the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Canada.

The EG.5 variant, is most prevalent in the United States with an estimated more than 17 percent of cases, has been behind upticks in the virus across the country. Meanwhile, the international health organization claims that it does not appear to be a greater threat to public health than other forms.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, had declared an end to COVID-19 as a global health emergency in May 2023, but said that it remains a global health threat.

The WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, noted that EG.5 had an increased transmissibility but was not more severe than other Omicron variants.

“We don’t detect a change in severity of EG.5 compared to other sublineages of Omicron that have been in circulation since late 2021.

“Collectively, available evidence does not suggest that EG.5 has additional public health risks relative to the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages,” she stated in a risk evaluation.”

Van Kerkhove said that the absence of data from many countries was hindering efforts to fight the virus.

“About a year ago, we were in a much better situation to either anticipate or act or be more agile,” she said. “And now the delay in our ability to do that is growing. And our ability to do this is declining.”

She added that a more comprehensive evaluation of the risk posed by EG.5 was needed.

COVID-19 has killed more than 6.9 million people globally, with more than 768 million confirmed cases since the virus emerged. WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic in March 2020.

The WHO D-G worried that many countries were not reporting COVID-19 data to the WHO. He said that only 11 percent had reported hospitalizations and ICU admissions related to the virus.

In response, WHO issued a set of standing recommendations for COVID, in which it urged countries to continue reporting COVID data, particularly mortality data, morbidity data, and to continue to offer vaccination