‘Arcturus’ COVID variant shows threat of new wave of death, warns WHO
The leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned coronavirus is still capable of causing mass death.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the warning as the latest Omicron subvariant - XBB.1.16, known as “Arcturus” - circulates, though the WHO has previously said it carries no extra risk compared to previous subvariants.
He said reported COVID deaths have dropped 95% since the beginning of the year, though some countries have seen increases and 14,000 people have died from the disease globally in the past four weeks.
“An estimated one in 10 infections results in post-COVID-19 conditions,” he added, “suggesting hundreds of millions of people will need longer-term care.
“And, as the emergence of the new XBB.1.16 variant illustrates, the virus is still changing and is still capable of causing new waves of diseases and death.
“We remain hopeful that some time this year, we will be able to declare an end to COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern, but this virus is here to stay and all countries will need to learn to manage it alongside other infectious diseases.”
As of 17 April, the Arcturus subvariant had been reported in 33 countries, with the most coming in India. Five people in England have died from it.
The risk assessment from a WHO report on Arcturus read: “Based on its genetic features, immune escape characteristics and growth rate estimates, XBB.1.16 may spread globally and drive an increase in case incidence.”
Read more: What is the COVID variant Arcturus and what are the symptoms?
However, it added there were “no early signals of increases in severity have been observed” in India and that “available evidence does not suggest that XBB.1.16 has additional public health risks relative to the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages”.
Meanwhile, speaking at the same briefing as Dr Tedros on Wednesday, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's COVID response lead, said the emergence of variants "indicates to us the virus continues to evolve, and it will continue to evolve because the virus is circulating pretty much unchecked.
"What we need to be able to do is keep surveillance up... because we have to remain vigilant. The virus is not going anywhere and we have to learn how to manage this appropriately."