A surge in cases of COVID-19 has led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to raise concerns over the “risk to life” as China opens its borders. Following the lifting of strict restrictions last month, cases of the disease have soared in the world’s most populated country.
The Omicron subvariant XBB15 has been identified in over 25 countries across the globe, including the UK and the US, and is said to be the most transmissible yet.
The outbreak in China is mostly led by the subvariants BA52 and BF7.
It is not thought that the XBB15 strain causes more serious symptoms, although WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the UN agency was “following closely and assessing the risk” of the variant.
It evolved from the XBB variant of Omicron, itself a fusion of two different BA2 variants – BA2101 and BA275.
Dr Tedros told reporters at a news conference: “We are really concerned about the current COVID-19 epidemiological picture, with both intense transmission in several parts of the world and a recombinant subvariant spreading quickly.”
Scientists have described the XBB15 variant as the one to “watch out for” this year, as it is responsible for over 40 percent of the cases in the US currently.
It was first detected in October 2022 and is now spreading throughout the world, including in the UK.
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The Chinese Government has reported five or fewer deaths each day.
However, hospitals and funeral homes have said they are overwhelmed.
Dr Tedros said the WHO had reiterated to the country “the importance of vaccination, including booster doses to protect against hospitalisation, severe disease and death.
“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalisations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing.”