Case detected in SA as WHO announces spread of new ‘Kraken’ Covid-19 variant

World Health Organization director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: WHO

World Health Organization director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Picture: WHO

Published Jan 9, 2023


Pretoria - Hopes that the new year would finally see the Covid-19 pandemic finally left behind by the global community have been dashed, as one case was identified in South Africa after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an increase in cases of an Omicron sub-variant across numerous countries.

Through gene sequencing carried out by Stellenbosch University researchers from a December 27 sample, local scientists announced that the XBB.1.5 variant had been identified.

It has been nicknamed the “Kraken variant” by some for its ability to spread, and it comes in the wake of health stakeholders saying they hoped 2023 would be the year the pandemic would finally be put behind the world.

The WHO said the XBB.1.5 sub-variant had not only increased, but has also been identified in more than 27 countries, and senior Stellenbosch epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said the XBB.1.5 was the most transmissible Omicron sub-variant detected so far.

Van Kerkhove said the variant spread rapidly because of the mutations it contained, allowing it to adhere to cells and replicate easily.

The Health Department yesterday said it was studying the report detailing the discovery, and would announce findings – and a way forward, after careful scrutiny.

Director-general for the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the variant, initially detected in October, was a recombinant of two BA2 sub-lineages detected especially across Europe and the US.

Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the XBB and XBB.1.5 sub-variants accounted for 44.1% of Covid-19 cases in the US in the week of December 31, up from 25.9% the previous week.

Ghebreyesus said the WHO was following developments closely and assessing the risk of the sub-variant.

Despite these developments, he remained confident that through working together, it was possible to harness and share science, deliver solutions that save lives and build solidarity to counter the health challenges countries were facing.

National Health spokesperson Foster Mohale said the national Health Department was aware of the XBB.1.5 sub-variant, and in fact, there had been many variants identified to date.

The health minister was expected to make a pronouncement during the week on the course of action for the country following advice from the country’s scientific community and the data gathered, he said.

“The pandemic is still claiming lives, especially those with compromised immune systems. For that reason we are still advising the public to get vaccinated and the booster shots.”

The first Covid-19 cases in South Africa were initially reported by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, from a group of 10 people who arrived in SA on March 1, 2020.

Pretoria News