The World Health Organisation (WHO) and US health authorities stated on Friday that they are closely monitoring a new variant of Covid-19, although the potential impact of BA.2.86 is currently unknown.
The WHO classified the new variant as one under surveillance “due to the large number (more than 30) of spike gene mutations it carries”, it wrote in a bulletin about the pandemic late on Thursday.
There are only four known sequences of the variant, the WHO has said.
“The potential impact of the BA.2.86 mutations are presently unknown and undergoing careful assessment,” the WHO said.
“BA.2.86 is the most striking Sars-CoV-2 strain the world has witnessed since the emergence of Omicron,” he said in a comment published on Friday, referring to the variant that exploded onto the global stage in the winter of 2022, causing a surge in Covid-19 cases.
“Over the coming weeks we will see how well BA.2.86 will be faring relative to other Omicron subvariants,” he said.
He stressed though that even if BA.2.86 caused a major spike in infections, “we are not expecting to witness comparable levels of severe disease and death than we did earlier in the pandemic when the Alpha, Delta or Omicron variants spread”.
“Most people on earth have now been vaccinated and/or infected by the virus,” he said, pointing out that even if people were reinfected with the new variant, “immune memory will still allow their immune system to kick in and control the infection far more effectively”.