Wear masks on long flights as XBB.1.5 Covid variant spreads, WHO says

Wear masks on long flights as XBB.1.5 Covid variant spreads, WHO says
Passengers should be advised to wear masks on long flights to counter the spread of Covid-19 as a new variant spreads, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.

The XBB.1.5 subvariant is fuelling a new spate of cases in the US and Europe, and China's Covid numbers continue to climb after travel and other restrictions were largely lifted. "This should be a recommendation issued to passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread Covid-19 transmission," said Catherine Smallwood, the WHO's senior emergency officer for Europe. It remains unclear if XBB.1.5 will cause its own wave of infections around the world. Current vaccines continue to protect against severe symptoms, hospital admission and death, experts say. "Countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing," Ms Smallwood said.

She said it was crucial not to focus exclusively on one particular geographic area. If measures were being considered, Ms Smallwood said they should be introduced "in a non-discriminatory manner."

The threat of other variants emerging is still present. “A threat could come from a new variant of concern anywhere, any time,” Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said at a briefing in Copenhagen.

Dr Kluge urged European countries to increase their monitoring, saying the health agency needs detailed and regular information to deal with the pandemic in its fourth year.

The number of genetic sequences submitted to the WHO from Europe has dropped to 90,000 in the last five weeks of 2022, compared to 1.2 million in the first five weeks of the year.

China must supply information, Dr Kluge said. nThe official death toll since the country abruptly shifted from its zero-Covid approach in early December remains less than 40, despite reports of overwhelmed crematoriums and nursing homes, prompting widespread scepticism of official estimates.

China’s definition for Covid deaths is “very narrow” and doesn’t necessarily meet WHO standards, Ms Smallwood said in the presentation.

A panel of experts is studying whether the XBB.1.5 strain should be called a variant of concern, she said, as cases of the subvariant are being picked up in small but growing numbers in Europe.

China’s Covid surge is not expected to significantly affect the spread of the disease in Europe, Dr Kluge said.

XBB.1.5, the most transmissible Omicron subvariant that has been detected so far, accounted for 27.6 per cent of Covid-19 cases in the US for the week ending on January 7, US health officials have said
Source: www.thenationalnews.com
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