The world is not out of the woods yet when it comes to Covid as a new variant sees cases increase exponentially in North America.
WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said that the health agency was concerned with how quickly the sub-variant was replacing other variants in circulation. In the U.S., it went from 4 percent of cases sequenced to 40 percent in a few weeks, according to the White House’s COVID-19 Response Coordinator.
The ECDC reports that the elevated pace of spread is likely due to the new variant ability to dodge immune system protection granted by previous infections or vaccination. It also has a mutation on its spike protein — the part of the virus that binds to host cells — which might provide some advantage.
For now, according to reports, the sub-variant is just a blip on the radar in Europe in terms of case numbers, said the ECDC, though it has been detected in Denmark, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Iceland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Portugal, and Ireland. Data coming out of the U.S. suggests XBB.1.5 spreads aggressively, with cases doubling every nine days.
But just because the sub-variant is exploding in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean that Europe will soon be in the eye of the storm. “Major differences in variant circulation have been observed between North America and Europe several times during the pandemic,” the ECDC said.
What concerns health authorities at this point is that even a minor increase in serious cases coincides with an already-difficult influenza and respiratory virus season, straining hospitals. In Belgium, public health authorities declared a flu epidemic due to surging cases, with the peak expected in three or four weeks.