Detection of new XBB variant in the Cape ‘not surprising due to the number of tourists’

The Mother City is fast gaining recognition as a prime destination for cruise lines. File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

The Mother City is fast gaining recognition as a prime destination for cruise lines. File picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 9, 2023


Cape Town - The Health Department has confirmed the highly transmissible sub-variant of Omicron XBB.1.5, also referred to as the “Kraken” variant, has been detected in the country.

Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (Ceri) director, professor Tulio de Oliveira, announced on Twitter the first XBB.1.5 case was detected by Stellenbosch University Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) on Friday.

“At present, no increase in cases, hospitalisations or deaths,” he said.

De Oliveira said the sub-variant, at a low prevalence, was detected in a sample taken from December 27, 2022 in the Western Cape and that this was not surprising due to the number of international tourists.

De Oliveira said he did not expect a big wave of infections with hospitalisations due to high population immunity and previous waves of Omicron lineages. The sub-variant emerged in the East Coast of the US.

Just days before, the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed concern over the increase in sub-variant cases detected in about 29 countries so far.

According to a WHO weekly epidemiological report, more than 3 million new Covid-19 cases and 10 000 deaths were reported in the week of December 26 to January 1, 2023.

In the past 28 days (December 5 to January 1), more than 14.5 million cases and 46 000 new deaths were reported globally, an increase of 25% and 21% respectively compared with the previous 28 days.

However, the WHO stated this could be an under-representation as surveillance has declined globally.

WHO director general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said: “Every week, approximately 10 000 people die of Covid-19 that we are aware of. The true toll is likely much higher.”

Ghebreyesus said XBB.1.5, first detected in October 2022, is a recombinant of two BA.2 sublineages on the increase in Europe and the US.

WHO Covid-19 Technical Lead, Dr Maria van Kerkhove, said it was the most transmissible sub-variant that has been detected yet, rapidly replacing other sub-variants in some countries.

“Our concern is how transmissible it is. It does have immune escape, like we’ve seen with XBB but it is another sub-variant of Omicron that is in circulation and the more this virus circulates, the more opportunities it will have to change …

“We do expect further waves of infection around the world but that doesn’t have to translate into further waves of death because our countermeasures continue to work.”

Van Kerkhove said the WHO does not have any data on the severity of the sub-variant yet.

Meanwhile, Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo has urged residents to get vaccinated and booster doses, citing vaccination as the best defence against infection.

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