The WHO is not impressed with the ‘Kraken’ variant, saying it is mainly nonetheless simply Omicron

New Omicron variant XBB.1.5, dubbed “Kraken,” doesn’t differ sufficient from different Omicron strains to warrant its personal Greek letter, WHO officers mentioned Wednesday. 

Whereas Kraken, rapidly spreading in the U.S., is “extremely transmissible” and spreads quicker than different circulating variants like BQ, it nonetheless belongs within the Omicron household, Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for COVID-19 response on the WHO, mentioned at a information convention.

Canadian biology professor Ryan Gregory recently nicknamed the “excessive flying” variant—the reason for the vast majority of COVID instances within the U.S. Northeast—after the aggressive mythological Scandinavian sea monster “Kraken.” He argues that new variants rising to prominence want memorable names that convey to the general public the evolving nature of the Omicron menace, as a substitute of only a string of numbers and letters. The WHO, accountable for assigning Greek letter names to important new COVID variants, hasn’t assigned a variant a brand new title sinceOmicron roughly a yr in the past, arguing that growing variants haven’t developed sufficient to take action.

The variant is anticipated to flee immunity from prior an infection and vaccination at about the identical degree as XBB, from which it developed, she mentioned. XB and BQ COVID variants are essentially the most immune-evasive but—however it doesn’t seem that XBB.1.5 takes that evasiveness a lot, if any, additional.

It’s nonetheless unknown if the sickness brought on by XBB.1.5 is extra extreme than that brought on by different latest COVID strains. Knowledge on the variant is restricted and principally comes from the U.S., which is seeing the lion’s share of detected instances, Van Kerkhove added.

Thus far, new Omicron strains are “behaving in the identical means,” apart from doing an more and more higher job of spreading, she mentioned, including that the WHO expects to see extra development benefit and immune escape in variants as they evolve.

When new variants start behaving in a different way, “we’re not afraid to make use of these Greek letters,” she mentioned, referencing the group’s system of assigning names like Alpha, Delta, and Omicron to notable new COVID variants.

The group’s threat evaluation on XBB.1.5 needs to be revealed “shortly,” the WHO mentioned Wednesday.

This can be a growing story and please examine again for updates.

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