Experts assessed the threat posed by a new highly infectious and vaccine-resistant COVID variant that has officially hit the Australian coast.
The new XBB strain – dubbed the “nightmare variant” – has been detected in New South Wales and Victoria, with no confirmation that it has spread further into WA.
Health authorities reported 21 cases of the XBB variant in New South Wales in the week ending October 15, while cases in Victoria increased 24.7% to 8,537 in the week ending October 28.
COVID cases increased by 2.2% across Australia in the week through October 25, to a total of 31,636.
The new strain is believed to be resistant to previous vaccines and antibodies to other COVID infections, but those who are completely stung and those who have already contracted the virus are less likely to become seriously ill.
XBB first appeared in Singapore, which has seen a recent surge in COVID cases.
The tension has gone from a fifth of the country’s cases to more than half in less than a week.
However, although cases in New South Wales have increased tenfold in just two weeks, experts say there is no evidence that it is more virulent than other strains.
NSW Health said Omicron BA4 and BA5 strains were still the most common variants.
“We will closely monitor the emergence of variants and other international and local data over the next seven to 14 days to assess the growth potential of new variants in the context of the immune profile of the NSW population,” NSW Health said.
On Friday, the World Health Organization released a statement suggesting that the new variant did not justify further public health problems at this stage because it “did not diverge sufficiently from other Omicron lineages.”
The XBB variant has been detected in 35 countries, but has not yet been associated with a large increase in new infections.
It is estimated that around 80% of Australians have already had COVID and around five million have received four doses of the vaccine.