COVID-19 Eris – why South Africans shouldn’t be too worried

South Africa only ended its mask mandate in June 2022 as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was deemed somewhat benign and vaccinations climbed across the country. Now, almost a year and one month from that date, a new subvariant of the novel coronavirus has been detected in the country.

This variant is called “Eris” and has already been discovered in Gauteng according to the National Department of Health.

Sharing its codename with the Greek goddess of chaos COVID-19 EG.5 is a subvariant of Omicron and has been deemed a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This means that organisations around the world should keep a close eye on it because while it may not be a threat, there is still not much known about it.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead of the WHO says that compared to other subvariants, Eris has, “an increased growth rate, as we expect of all of these sublineages that are emerging,” but that the organisation, “does not detect a change in severity of EG.5 compared to other sublineages of Omicron that have been in circulation since late 2021.”

The Department of Health echoes the WHO, with a spokesperson saying that the risk that Eris poses remains low and people who are vaccinated against the virus will still be protected.

Van Kerkhove says that WHO is closely monitoring the subvariant and calls for countries around the world to continue genome sequencing and sharing this information internationally to better understand these subvariants.

According to The Conversation, Eris has quickly become the most prevalent subvariant of the virus in the United States, quickly beating out other offshoots. Before Eris emerged, COVID-19 Kraken, another subvariant of Omicron also known as XBB.1.5 was behind an increase in cases worldwide, though of low severity.

However, as more subvariants of low severity continue to pop up, the discourse turns towards COVID-19 becoming completely endemic worldwide, similar to the influenza virus, or the common cold.

This form of COVID will be prevalent but manageable for the world’s health sectors and lead to lower mortality rates.

“The virus is evolving,” warns Van Kerkhove. “The virus is circulating in every country. And EG.5 is one of the latest variants of interest that we’re classifying. This will continue and this is what we have to prepare for.”

[Image – Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash]


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