New XBB Variant Of Covid-19 Immune Evasive: WHO's Soumya Swaminathan

The senior scientist also called for available tools and highlighted the positives.
WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan spoke on Covid-19 variant XBB
WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan spoke on Covid-19 variant XBB

With India reporting a highly infectious new COVID-19 variant, World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan on Friday said that there were over 300 sub-variants and XBB being a recombinant virus is a matter of concern.

She also highlighted that the new variant is immune evasive.

"There are over 300 sub-varients of Omicron. I think the one that is concerning right now is XBB which is a recombinant virus. We had seen some recombinant viruses before. It is very immune evasive which means, it can overcome the antibodies. So slightly we may see another wave of infections in some countries because of XBB," said Swaminathan.

Her remarks came while addressing a media briefing in Pune.

Stressing on the tracking of other derivatives of XBB, she noted, "We are also tracking derivatives of BA.5 and BA.1 which are also more transmissible and immune evasive. As the virus evolves, it is going to evolve more and become transmissible. As of now, there is no data from any country to suggest these new sub-varients are more clinically severe. While the virus is causing an increasing infection in some countries the severity seems to be similar."

She also underlined the importance of monitoring and said, "We need to continue to monitor and track. We have seen that testing has gone down across countries, the genomic surveillance has also gone down over the last few months. We need to maintain at least a strategic sampling genomic surveillance so that we can keep tracking the variants as we have been doing and studying."

The senior scientist also called for available tools and highlighted the positives.

"The good thing is that we have many tools and the most important thing is vaccines. For vaccine coverage, our goals are 100 per cent of people over the age of 60 and 100 per cent of healthcare and frontline workers. We have a goal of achieving 70 per cent of the country but subgroups are more important because they are the groups that are most likely to face morbidity and mortality," she added.

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Earlier on Tuesday, Maharashtra recorded a 17.7 per cent rise in coronavirus cases compared to last week, according to a state health department bulletin.

The state has reported new Covid cases including the XBB, a new sub-variant of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has been detected in parts of India, including Kerala.

Apart from this, Maharashtra has reported cases from other sub-variants of Omicron - BA.2.3.20 and BQ.1 variant, which was detected for the first time in India on Monday from the sample of a patient in Pune.

XBB, a recombinant lineage between two Omicron sublineages BJ.1 and BA.2.75, is a fast-spreading variant, which was seen to have caused a spike across Singapore recently.

On Tuesday, a high-level meeting of Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya with the senior health officials regarding the emergence of Omicron's new sub-variants concluded with the decision to continue masks and COVID19-appropriate behaviour across the country.

The team of scientists, doctors and senior officials has also recommended increasing surveillance and genome sequencing.

The health officials also urged accelerating COVID-19 precaution dose of eligible population on mission mode.

Niti Aayog member VK Paul, Chairperson of COVID-19 working group NTAGI NK Arora, NTAGI officials, NEGVAC officials and other senior health officials were present, as per official sources.

(With inputs from ANI)

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