New Omicron Variant Being Watched, WHO Says

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April 1, 2023 -- While COVID-19 cases are declining globally, a new Omicron variant has appeared and is “one to watch,” a World Health Organization official says.

The variant is called XBB.1.16, Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead for the WHO, said at a news conference

“At the present time there’s only about 800 sequences of XBB.1.16 from 22 countries,” she said. “Most of the sequences are from India and in India, XBB.1.16 has replaced the other variants that are in circulation. So, this is one to watch. It has been in circulation for a few months.”

According to Kerkhove, XBB.1.16 is similar to XBB.1.5 but has an additional mutational mutation in the spike protein. In lab studies, XBB.1.16 has proven more infectious than XBB.1.5, she said, but more severe illness hasn’t been found in people actually infected with the new variant.

“So far reports do not indicate a rise in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, or deaths due to XBB.1.16. Further, there are currently no reported laboratory studies on markers of disease severity for XBB.1.16,” said WHO’s weekly COVID update.

XBB.1.16 has not appeared yet on the CDC’s variant tracker of COVID-19 in the United States. The tracker shows XBB.1.5 is currently the dominant U.S. variant. 

Fortune Well reported that some sequences of the new variant have been detected in the United States but in such small numbers that they haven’t cracked the CDC’s data tracker. 

XBB.1.16 has been identified in other Asian nations, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia, Fortune said.

WHO reported that about 3.6 million new COVID cases and more than 25,000 COVID-related deaths were reported from Feb. 27 to March 26, a decrease of 27% and 39%, respectively, from the previous 28 days.