WHO declares new Covid-19 strain of interest as cases rise globally

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is asking countries to monitor a new sub-variant of Covid called EG.5 as it has now infected 51 countries.

The new variant, which has been unofficially named ‘Eris’, is related to an Omicron subvariant called XBB.1.9.2, and is growing rapidly as countries including the UK, China and the US have been infected. However, although WHO is asking people to keep a close eye on the disease, the public health risk has been judged as low.

Visualization of the coronavirus causing COVID-19

‘Based on the available evidence, the public health risk posed by EG.5 is evaluated as low at the global level,’ WHO said. ‘While EG.5 has shown increased prevalence, growth advantage, and immune escape properties, there have been no reported changes in disease severity to date.’

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the new strain now makes up about one in seven cases of Covid-19 picked up by hospital tests.

Dr Meera Chand, deputy director of UKHSA, said: ‘EG.5 was designated as a variant on 31st July 2023 due to continued growth internationally and presence in the UK, allowing us to monitor it through our routine surveillance processes.’

Cases of EG.5 are also rising in the US, where is has narrowly surpassed other circulating omicron sub-variants, according to estimates published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

News of the EG.5 strain of Covid-19 being declared a variant of interest has come as winter booster vaccines for the virus have been scrapped for under 65s that are in full health in England. Despite the country trying to impose a living with the virus approach, reports of a new strain spreading around could imply this decision was made too early – especially as experts aren’t 100% sure on what affects the new variant may bring.

Symptoms of the new strain include:

  • Fever
  • Continuous cough 
  • Change in sense of taste and/or smell 
  • Fatigue 
  • Runny nose 
  • Sore throat

Image: Fusion Medical Animation


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