The World Health Organization and US health authorities announced on Friday that they are closely monitoring a new subvariant of the COVID-19 virus, although “at this time the potential impact of the numerous mutations of BA.2.86 is unknown. “.
The WHO has decided to classify this new variant “in the category of variants under surveillance because of the very large number (more than 30) of mutations of the Spike gene that it carries”, writes the organization in its epidemiological bulletin devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic and broadcast overnight from Thursday to Friday.
It is the Spike protein that gives the virus its spiky appearance and is what allows SARS-CoV-2 to enter host cells.
So far, this new variant has only been detected in Israel, Denmark, the United States and health authorities in the United Kingdom also confirmed a case on Friday.
In the United States, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also indicated that they are closely monitoring the variant, in a message published on the social network X (ex-Twitter).
“The potential impact of BA.2.86 mutations is currently unknown and is being carefully assessed,” the organization said, stressing again the importance of continuing to monitor, sequence and notify authorities. competent to have an accurate and comprehensive view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So far, the WHO is aware of 6 sequences of BA.2.86, but we expect this number to change,” a WHO spokeswoman told AFP.
WHO tracks three sub-variants of interest (XBB.1.5, XBB.1.16 and EG.5) and seven sub-variants are classified under surveillance (BA.2.75, BA.2.86, CH.1.1, XBB, XBB. 1.9.1, XBB.1.9.2 and XBB.2.3).
Most states that had put in place specific surveillance systems for the presence of the COVID-19 virus and its variants have generally dismantled them, believing that the threat was now less severe and no longer justified these expenses.
The WHO has consistently denounced this “disarmament” and continues “to call for better surveillance, sequencing and reporting of COVID-19 as this virus continues to circulate and evolve”.
If, since the beginning of May, the WHO no longer considers the pandemic as a global health emergency, “the virus continues to circulate in all countries, continues to kill and continues to change”, underlined again last week its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
François Balloux, who heads the chair of bioinformatics at University College London, believes that the attention paid to this new variant is justified.
Not like the others
“BA.2.86 is the most striking strain of SARS-CoV-2 the world has seen since the emergence of Omicron,” he said in a comment posted on Friday, referring to the variant that exploded on the world stage in the winter of 2022, causing an increase in COVID cases.
“Over the next few weeks, we’ll see how well BA.2.86 performs against other Omicron subvariants,” he said.
He, however, pointed out that even if BA.2.86 caused a major spike in infections, “we do not expect to see comparable levels of serious illness and death compared to what we have [eu] earlier in the pandemic when the Alpha, Delta, or Omicron variants spread.”
Since then, a good part of the world’s population has been vaccinated or has some protection after being infected.
Over the last period under review (July 17 to August 13, 2023), more than 1.4 million new cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,300 deaths were notified, according to the WHO epidemiological bulletin. This represents an increase of 63% and a decrease of 56%, respectively, compared to the previous 28-day period.
As of August 13, 2023, over 769 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 6.9 million deaths have been reported worldwide, in total. The actual toll of infections and deaths is believed to be much heavier, with many cases having escaped the census.