Exclusive: XAY.2 strain does not appear worse so far, says WHO spokesperson
Published: Jan 20, 2023 12:16 AM
Omicron Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Thailand's Department of Medical Sciences on January 6 confirmed the first case in Thailand of XAY.2, a Delta-Omicron recombinant variant, according to local media reports. The news has drawn widespread attention, with many worrying about whether this could lead to a further escalation of COVID-19 cases and how it might affect the epidemic situation in China.

"Although the data itself is too limited to do any meaningful analysis, so far there is no signal of increased growth advantage, and no signal of antibody escape or increased severity," WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told the Global Times in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Lindmeier noted that based on available information, the same protective methods that people used against other strains of Omicron continue to work against this variant.

According to the Bangkok Post, XAY.2 is a hybrid of the AY.45 Delta variant and the BA.4/5 Omicron variant.

On Thursday, Chang Zhaorui, a researcher with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Chinese CDC), said at a press conference that the XAY.2 variant was first detected in South Africa on August 31, 2022. The variant has been detected in nine countries and regions so far. Since December 2022, it has been on the rise in a few counties, especially Denmark.

Lindmeier told the Global Times that according to the data from the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID) on January 17, 2023, 456 samples of XAY.2 were submitted from a handful of countries between August 31, 2022 and January 17, 2023.

"These are low numbers for the given time span," he said.

He told the Global Times that the WHO and partners will continue to monitor this and other variants for any indication of a rise in transmission or a change in clinical severity.

"To date, this has not been observed with the XAY.2 variant. Based on available data, XAY.2 has not become a dominant variant in any particular region or country," he said.

Talking about what methods people should use to protect against the XAY.2 variant, the WHO spokesperson said that based on the available information, the same protective measures continue to work against all SARS-CoV-2 variants. This includes getting vaccinated, getting booster doses as recommended, physical distancing as much as possible, wearing masks when around others and especially when in crowded, indoor spaces, improving ventilation, and ensuring good hand and respiratory hygiene.

"COVID-19 vaccines continue to be protective against severe disease and death from all variants, including all of the Omicron subvariants and recombinants that have been detected to date," he stressed.

Chang of the Chinese CDC said at Thursday's media conference that there is currently insufficient data on the transmissibility, pathogenicity, and immune escape ability of the XAY.2 variant.

He said that so far China has not detected any cases of the XAY.2 variant. Relevant departments will continue to follow international developments, further strengthen the surveillance of imported and local cases and the SARS CoV-2 strains in China, and conduct research and judgment in a timely manner.

Chang said that at this stage, it is still necessary to emphasize personal protection and good hygiene habits such as wearing masks, as well as proper ventilation. Inbound travelers should keep up their health monitoring and seek medical advice if necessary if they develop symptoms related to COVID-19 infection.

Dr Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences in Thailand, said that the department had already shared information about the case with GISAID, according to the Bangkok Post report.

Dr Ballang Uppapong, deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences in Thailand, said the XAY.2 hybrid had an effect similar to the Omicron variant, read the same report

With the development of the COVID-19 situation, some people think that it will gradually become a seasonal respiratory disease. "We are still learning about this virus, which remains new to us in the fourth year since its emergence," he told the Global Times.

"We do not yet observe a seasonal trend in temperate regions of the world as the virus is able to spread throughout the year. However this virus may settle into a seasonal pattern as we see with influenza. We are not yet there."

As more data becomes available on the effectiveness of vaccinations and boosters, "we will have a better understanding of the future needs for vaccination. There is also research ongoing to create new vaccines that can prevent infection, in addition to severe disease and death. In short, it is too early to definitively answer these questions," he said.