This Morning: Dr Zoe talks about new Covid variant XBB1.5

We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged people to start wearing face masks in crowded, enclosed and poorly-ventilated spaces — regardless of local Covid infection rates. The guidance comes as the rapid spread of the new XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant, nicknamed “kraken”, is growing in dominance in the US, where it was first detected in October 2022.

In the UK, XBB.1.5 is not a variant of concern and is said to have a “very low prevalence”. However, officials expect the variant to become dominant in the future, and independent experts have told Express.co.uk that it is expected to push up case numbers as this winter progresses. China is also seeing a surge of Covid-19 cases following the lifting of its strict Zero Covid measures back in early December. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the strains presently circulating in the People’s Republic are the older Omicron sublineages BA.5.2 and BF.7.

On Friday, a WHO spokesperson said: “WHO continues to recommend the use of masks by the public in specific situations, and this update recommends their use irrespective of the local epidemiological situation, given the current spread of COVID-19 globally.”

“Masks are recommended following a recent exposure to COVID-19, when someone has or suspects they have COVID-19, when someone is at high-risk of severe COVID-19, and for anyone in a crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated space.

“Previously, WHO recommendations were based on the epidemiological situation.”

The updated guidance was issued just days after the WHO recommended that travellers on long-distance flights also wear a mask.

Experts at Northeastern University in Massachusetts have predicted that the transmissibility of XBB.1.5 will spark another wave of illness in the US — although it is not expected to overwhelm hospitals and emergency rooms.

Biologist Dr Jared Auclair explained: “It follows a trend of more infectious, less deadly.”

Preliminary assessments, he added, indicate that XBB.1.5 is more infectious than other Omicron subvariants because it binds more tightly to cells, increasing the chance of uptake.

Certainly, the new variant is increasing in dominance in the US — with it accounting for 43 percent of all cases at the end of last week compared to just 2.3 percent at the start of December.

Physicist and machine learning expert Professor Mauricio Santillana — who is part of a team tracking COVID-19 cases in the US — added: “We’ll definitely, definitely have another wave.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that even if we see an explosion of cases, it will not be as bad as previous waves.”

According to Prof. Santillana, vaccination or previous infection with COVID-19 should offer a degree of protection against severe illness from XBB.1.5.

He added: “Our bodies have seen at least one version already.”

DON’T MISS:
Putin’s energy blackmail backfires as Europe swerves supply crisis [INSIGHT]
UK’s first gigafactory makes redundancies as rescue talks fail [REPORT]
Electric car drivers could save £1k a year with new charging plan [ANALYSIS]

Regardless, Prof. Santillana said, the elderly and immunocompromised remain at a higher risk of severe illness and death.

People with symptoms or who feel ill should wear a face mask in order to reduce the spread of the virus, he added, saying: “I would like people to be more responsible.”

Dr Auclair added: “It’s a good time to remind people to do all those things that we were doing a year ago, and that we might have slacked off on.

“Make sure you have your booster shots, make sure that you wash your hands, make sure that you’re vaccinated and have your booster shots. And, if you’re sick — wear a mask.”

Source: Read Full Article