The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) has said that it was monitoring the new subvariants (descendants) of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, named EG.5 and BA.2.86.
According to a statement signed by the Director General of NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa on Saturday, August 26, 2023, the EG.5 variant is a descendant of XBB.1.9.2 (itself a descendant of Omicron).
Adetifa informed that as of 7th August 2023, the EG.5 had been reported in fifty-one (51) countries including China, the United States of America, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Spain etc.
He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified EG.5 as a “variant of interest” (VOI) and conducted a risk assessment which found this new variant poses a low risk at the global level. In addition, EG.5 had not been associated with any change in symptoms/clinical manifestation and had not produced an increase in severity of illness and/or hospitalisations or difference in death rates in reporting countries.
He added that, “EG.5 causes symptoms like those seen with other COVID-19 variants, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, and sore throat. So far, only one case of EG.5 has been seen in Africa, it has not been identified in Nigeria”.
The NCDC Boss further explained that, the recently discovered/reported BA.2.86 was a descendent lineage of BA.2 (a sublineage of Omicron, also found in Nigeria in 2022).
He also stated that, “as of August 23, 2023, the BA.2.86 variant had been reported in a handful of countries – the United Kingdom, Israel, Denmark, South Africa, and the United States. It has been classified by the WHO as a ‘variant under monitoring (VUM)’ because it has multiple genetic differences that make it substantially different from its ancestor, BA.2, and from other currently circulating XBB-derived SARS-CoV-2 variants.
“Since there are few cases identified so far, there is not enough information to make conclusive assessments of virulence, transmission, and severity. However, we do not expect it to be much different from other omicron descendants currently circulating. Although the ancestor, BA.2 has been previously found in Nigeria, no BA.2.86 variant has been identified in Nigeria”.
The Public Health Expert further informed that the NCDC’s COVID-19 Technical Working Group (COVID-19 TWG) was closely monitoring COVID-19 epidemiology – local, regional, continental, and global – including emerging variants.
Adding that, “our influenza sentinel surveillance sites continue to provide information on COVID-19 prevalence in patients with influenza-like illness and severe acute respiratory illness. We have not observed any increase in the trend of COVID-19 in this patient group.
“We continue to carry out genomics surveillance even with the low testing levels and encourage testing locations in states to ensure their positive samples are sent on to the NCDC for sequencing.
“Unrelated to the news of these emerging variants, the NCDC and partners are working on implementing an enhanced COVID-19 testing exercise in four states to obtain complementary and more detailed information about circulating variants in the country. In addition, COVID-19 rapid diagnostic kits are being distributed to improve bi-directional COVID-19 testing”.
The NCDC DG therefore urged fellow citizens including media practitioners to act responsibly and share only verified information, stating that there was no need to cause unnecessary anxiety and panic:
“As we have consistently advised, COVID-19 is here to stay and is now mainly a problem for those at high risk – the elderly, those with underlying chronic illnesses, especially hypertension, diabetes, those on cancer treatment, organ transplant recipients and those whose immune systems are suppressed for one reason or the other.
“The actions required to protect our friends, families, and selves remain the same as before. We continue to monitor situations across the globe and especially in countries where the new variant has been confirmed and keep Nigerians updated as may be required with scientifically sound and evidence-based information on any changes in SARS-COV-2 epidemiology and genomics that may threaten public health”, he said.