The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the Eris coronavirus strain as a ‘variant of interest’.
The new variant is circulating in the United States, China and parts of the UK.
However, the global health agency said the strain did not seem to pose more of a threat to public health than other variants.
The fast-spreading variant is currently the most prevalent in the US, with an estimated more than 17% of cases across the country attributed to the virus.
In the UK, it has been found responsible for one in seven Covid cases.
So far it has been detected in China, South Korea, Japan and Canada among other countries.
‘Collectively, available evidence does not suggest that EG.5 [Eris] has additional public health risks relative to the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages,’ the WHO said in a risk evaluation.
A more comprehensive evaluation of the risk posed by Eris was needed, it added.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said the Eris variant had increased transmissibility but was not more severe than other Omicron variants.
‘We don’t detect a change in severity of EG.5 compared to other sublineages of Omicron that have been in circulation since late 2021,’ she said.
The WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that many countries were not reporting Covid-19 data to the agency, adding that only 11% had reported hospitalisations and ICU admissions related to the virus.
In response, WHO issued a set of standing recommendations for Covid, in which it urged countries to continue reporting Covid data, particularly mortality and morbidity data, and to continue to offer vaccinations.
Ms Van Kerkhove said that the absence of data from many countries was hindering efforts to fight the virus.
‘About a year ago, we were in a much better situation to either anticipate or act or be more agile,’ she said. ‘And now the delay in our ability to do that is growing. And our ability to do this is declining.’
Covid-19 has killed more than 6.9 million people globally, with more than 768 million confirmed cases since the virus emerged. WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic in March 2020 and ended the global emergency status for the disease in May this year.
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