COVID-19: Siouxsie Wiles' advice for Kiwis after new strain Kraken found in New Zealand

By Jonty Dine for RNZ

A microbiologist is stressing the pandemic is not over as COVID-related deaths continue across the world.

New strain XBB.1.5, nicknamed 'Kraken', is spreading rapidly across the globe and has just been detected in New Zealand.

"The reason people are concerned about it is because it has a number of mutations better able to infect and evade immunity from vaccines," said University of Auckland associate professor Dr Siouxsie Wiles.

Wiles said New Zealand had tools to reduce the impact of the new strain, which was sweeping across the United States.

"It's becoming the dominant variant in the next few weeks [in the US] and as we have seen, often by the time it is identified in a country, it moves."

She said masks and proper ventilation remained the best weapons to fight the virus, as eradicating it from the air was the best way to control it.

"We have tools that will prevent transmission and sickness from COVID-19 and they work against all variants."

Her advice was simple.

"I would be advising people to wear masks on public transport and planes, malls, supermarkets, wherever you are around people."

As with previous strains, Wiles said people's experiences were very different with some getting very ill and others largely unaffected.

The Ministry of Health/Manatū Hauora on Monday reported 2424 new cases of COVID-19 in the community - down about 100 from Sunday and just over half the 4000 cases reported on 4 January.

Wiles said it was important to remember it was not just the elderly dying from the virus.

Kraken was descended from the Omicron XBB subvariant, itself a cross between two earlier strains: BA.2.75 and BA.2.10.1.

The World Health Organization said it has been detected in at least 31 other countries.