Covid on the screen
Covid on the screen Phil Noble/Reuters

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday declared a new Covid strain called Eris a variant of interest. The variant, also known as EG.5, has been detected in countries like the US, the UK, China, and India.

The emergence of the new strain has sparked concerns around the globe, even though the risk to public health is currently low, according to a statement by the agency.

"Based on the available evidence, the public health risk posed by EG.5 is evaluated as low at the global level," said the agency. "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.

Eris is a sub-strain of Omicron XBB, a highly transmissible strain of Covid-19. It is said to be 20-45 percent more transmissible than XBB.

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), it was "first raised as a signal (detected) in monitoring on 3 July 2023 as part of horizon scanning due to increasing reports internationally, particularly in Asia."

"EG.5.1 was designated as a variant on 31 July 2023 due to continued growth internationally and presence in the UK, allowing us to monitor it through our routine surveillance processes," The Guardian quoted UKHSA deputy director as saying.

The new strain has raised the alarm among public health officials who fear it could lead to a surge in cases and overwhelm healthcare systems. In recent weeks, several cases of the strain have been detected in the country.

Eris accounted for an estimated 15% of sequenced Covid-19 cases in England last week, per the data provided by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). It has now become the second most prevalent Covid-19 strain in the UK. Currently, Arcturus makes up half of all infections reported in the country.

Northern Ireland, followed by Scotland, Wales, the West Midlands, the South West, the North East and London have been witnessing the fastest spread of the disease.

According to the WHO, the main symptoms of Eris infection include sore throat, runny nose, blocked nose, sneezing, dry cough, headache and body pain. While the virus seems to be spreading more easily, there is no definitive evidence to show that being affected by it leads to a more severe illness.

The World Health Organization also observed that the new variant is not causing more deaths than its predecessor, the XBB variant of Omicron. An epidemiologist with the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health told Vox that the strain won't likely cause "as big of a wave as past variants."

The United States has also seen a 12.5 percent increase in Covid hospitalisations between July 23 and July 29. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Eris has been responsible for 17.3 per cent of current Covid-19 cases in the country.

Even though Covid-19 is no longer the leading cause of death in England and Wales, the government has appealed to people to get their booster vaccine doses and observe all precautions. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Covid-19 was the sixth leading cause of deaths in the UK in 2022.

Vaccines and Covid appropriate behaviour have been able to reduce the impact of infections on the numbers of deaths and hospitalisations, but vaccines may not be as effective on emerging variants, say the experts.

The health officials are urging the public to remain vigilant and continue to follow public health guidelines such as wearing masks, washing hands regularly, and practicing social distancing. They have also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated when the vaccine becomes available to them, as this will help protect against all strains of the virus, including the new strain.