The COVID-19 variant remains a threat: WHO

COVID-19 is still a menace, as a virus variation has been spreading slowly over the world, according to the World Health Organization on Tuesday.

"This virus, SARS-CoV-2, is circulating in every country right now, and it still poses a threat," stated WHO researcher Maria Van Kerkhove. "We have to remain vigilant because the virus is circulating, evolving, and changing," she said during a debate on the WHO's social media platforms.

Van Kerkhove served as the WHO's technical lead during the 2019 coronavirus pandemic and is now the UN health organization's acting director for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention.

There are now three variants of interest (XBB.1.5, XXB.1.16, and EG.5) and six variants under surveillance, all of which are of minor concern. One of the six, BA.2.86, is being moved up to become a variant of interest. 

"We don't see a change in severity" when compared to other variant sub-lineages, but "we've seen a slow and steady increase in its detection around the world," Van Kerkhove added. The new classification should aid in the advancement of monitoring and research.

The WHO is also providing a new risk assessment for EG.5, which accounts for around half of all sequences exchanged globally, albeit there has been no change in its severity. The COVID-19 epidemic killed millions and caused economic and social disaster.

The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern—its highest available alarm—on January 30, 2020, and finally lifted it on May 5 this year. 

Besides acute infection and disease, the WHO is also concerned about the long-term effects caused by the virus, known collectively as Long COVID, or post-COVID conditions. 

"We do have evidence that vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines does reduce the risk of post-COVID condition," Van Kerkhove said in a statement. She stated that 13.5 billion COVID-19 vaccines had been administered globally. 

Noting that people can become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza at the same time, she urged people in the northern hemisphere to get vaccinated against both as winter approaches. 

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