COVID-19: Two new variants reported in Aotearoa, health officials keep close eye on their evolution

"We continue to watch these variants closely based on overseas trends."
"We continue to watch these variants closely based on overseas trends." Photo credit: Getty Images

Health experts are keeping an eagle eye on the evolution of two new COVID-19 variants that have made their way to Aotearoa.

ESR (Institute of Environmental Science and Research) has identified two new COVID variants in the community, BQ.1.1 and XBB. 

Health officials will have their fingers on the pulse with the arrival of these two new variants. 

"We continue to watch these variants closely based on overseas trends."

BQ.1.1 was first identified by health officials last week. On Friday ESR identified three incidents of the variant - with it being detected in wastewater in western Auckland, Rotorua and Porirua. 

One case of XBB was identified, although not identified in wastewater due to the low number of samples available to ESR for genomic surveillance. 

International media have dubbed XBB the "nightmare variant" after it's reported to be capable of rapidly doubling the number of new infections.

The Washington Post reports XBB appears to be the current variant best at evading existing immunity from vaccination or prior infection. 

While XBB seems to spread more effectively than other variants, it's not yet known if it causes more severe disease than other strains. 

Epidemiologist at the University of Otago Professor Michael Baker told Newshub with the arrival of two new variants it is only "a matter of time before we get every variant on earth arriving here". 

He added at some stage a different variant will emerge as the dominant one and replace BA.5, which currently makes up 85 percent of cases in ESR's two-week reporting window.

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