A new fast-spreading COVID strain has been designated a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organisation.
EG.5 is descended from the Omicron variant of coronavirus and is growing in prevalence globally, including in the UK, US and China.
It has been detected in 51 countries in total, including South Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, France, Portugal and Spain.
In the week beginning 19 June, one in 13 cases were down to the COVID variant.
The latest data suggests it now accounts for 17.4% of cases – one in six – which the WHO described as a “notable rise”.
However, it said the public health risk posed by EG.5 has been judged as low.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said EG.5 has an increased transmissibility but is not more severe than other Omicron variants.
“Collectively, available evidence does not suggest that EG.5 has additional public health risks relative to the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages,” the WHO said in a risk evaluation.
“While EG.5 has shown increased prevalence, growth advantage, and immune escape properties, there have been no reported changes in disease severity to date,” it added.
EG.5 includes subvariant EG.5.1 – which T. Ryan Gregory, a biology professor, has nicknamed “Eris” in posts on social media.
Last week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said EG.5.1 now makes up one in seven new cases in the UK.
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The WHO update comes amid a fall in COVID reporting.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said only 11% of countries are reporting hospitalisations and ICU admissions related to the virus – hindering efforts to fight it.
He has urged countries to not let down their guard, and to continue reporting COVID data and offer vaccination.
COVID-19 has killed more than 6.9 million people globally, with more than 768 million confirmed cases since the virus emerged.
WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic in March 2020 and ended the global emergency status for COVID in May this year.