Covid is on the rise as a new variant is adopted next month, watchdog warns

A major warning of an expected spike in Covid-19 cases from mid-November to early December, fueled by a new, more infectious sub-variant found in Ireland and other countries, was issued today by Europe’s disease surveillance agency.

It is the clearest signal so far that the new sub-variant BQ.1 and its offshoot BQ1.1 will displace the currently dominant variant BA.5 from the top position.

The new strains have already been detected in Ireland.

The European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) said at least five European countries have detected the distribution of subvariant BQ.1.

ECDC model forecasts predict that BQ1 and its sublineage BQ1.1 will become the dominant SARS-CoV2 strains in the EU/EEA by mid-November to early December 2022.

“This will likely contribute to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks to months, according to an update.

Preliminary laboratory studies in Asia indicate that BQ.1 is able to significantly evade the immune system response. However, based on the limited data currently available, there is no evidence that BQ.1 is associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating omicron variants BA.4/BA.5.

“Countries should remain vigilant and alert to signals of the emergence and spread of BQ.1 and conduct sensitive and representative testing,” said Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director. “Countries should continue to monitor Covid-19 case rates, particularly among people aged 65 and over. Indicators of severity such as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and occupancy, and deaths should also be monitored.”

Improving the uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine in primary immunization and the first booster dose in populations that have yet to receive it remains a priority. It is expected that additional booster doses will be required for the groups most at risk of serious illness, such as adults over 60 years of age, immunocompromised individuals, those with underlying medical conditions, and pregnant women.

The EU/EEA countries with the highest proportions of samples collected are France (19 percent), Belgium (9 percent), Ireland (7 percent), the Netherlands (6 percent) and Italy (5 percent).

The current proportions are not high enough for the variant to have had a noticeable impact on the epidemiological situation in the affected countries. ECDC encourages EU/EEA Member States to continuously share available information on these variants to support risk assessments in the coming weeks.

It emerged this week that several other new Omicron Covid-19 subvariants are being monitored in Ireland and may be better able to evade the immunity built up from vaccination and previous infection.

Cuttings are still picked in small numbers, but BA.5 – for which there is now a booster vaccine – is still dominant.

The autumn wave of Covid-19 paints a mixed picture, with the number of patients in hospital hovering at 442 yesterday compared to 478 last week. However, the numbers in intensive care have risen to 17, compared to 11 at the start of the month.

The seven-day positivity rate for people undergoing PCR testing was 13.8 percent yesterday, up from 14.4 percent in the first week of this month.

The Health Protection Surveillance Center (HPSC) weekly report for October 9-15 found that infections detected by PCR testing were down 5.6 percent compared to the previous week, with the highest number in the 35-year-old age group – to 44-year-olds was recorded. Self-reported cases from home antigen testing were stable.

52 Covid-19 outbreaks were reported in the past week, eight more than the previous week. Hospitals and nursing homes were hit hardest, with 18 each.

In her weekly report presented last Friday, chief medical officer Professor Breda Smyth said 46 per cent of those with Covid-19 who were in intensive care last Tuesday week were there because of complications from the virus.

Forty-one percent were hospitalized directly for Covid-19, with others for other illnesses.

Regarding new variants, Prof Smyth said the UK had spotted the circulation of additional lineages emerging quickly.

The prevalence is low and those monitored are BA.2.75, BF.7 and BQ.X. They show signs of growth compared to BA.5 and in some cases this is similar to other variants that have led to more infections.

On October 8, the HPSC had detected 46 cases of BA.2.75 and 108 of BF.7. Other subvariants have also been discovered. BA.5 is circulating here, but this is likely due to more mixing and higher levels of indoor gatherings.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the launch of the vaccination program and the rate of coronavirus cases in Ireland Covid is on the rise as a new variant is adopted next month, watchdog warns

Fry Electronics Team

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