WHO warns COVID-19 still a threat, highlights global spread of variants.

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized on Tuesday that COVID-19 remains a global threat, with a steady spread of a virus variant worldwide. WHO expert Maria Van Kerkhove cautioned that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is circulating in every country, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance due to its evolving nature.

Van Kerkhove, WHO’s interim director for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, highlighted the presence of three variants of interest (XBB.1.5, XXB.1.16, and EG.5) and six variants under monitoring. Variant BA.2.86 is being moved up to become a variant of interest, although there is no observed change in severity compared to other variants.

While there is a slow and steady increase in the detection of BA.2.86 globally, Van Kerkhove noted that the new classification aims to enhance surveillance and research efforts. The WHO is also publishing a new risk evaluation for variant EG.5, representing about half of the sequences shared globally, without a noted change in severity.

Despite the progress in vaccination efforts, the WHO expressed concern about the long-term effects of the virus, collectively known as Long Covid or post-Covid conditions. Van Kerkhove stated that evidence shows COVID-19 vaccination reduces the risk of post-Covid conditions.

With 13.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered globally, the WHO underscored the importance of vaccination, especially as the northern hemisphere approaches winter. Van Kerkhove urged people to get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and influenza to mitigate the risk of concurrent infections.