The graphs are being closely watched, and all eyes are on new, emerging COVID variants that could lead to a pandemic resurgence. The latest to come under the radar of researchers is the XBB variant.
Is XBB a new COVID variant?
No, it's not a new variant of COVID. Rather, it is a recombinant of two Omicron subvariants, BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75.
XBB was first detected in Singapore, but since then has spread to over 35 countries.
According to the WHO, since it is a sub-lineage of Omicron, it will be considered a variant of concern.
Is it more transmissible?
Early data points to XBB being more transmissible than previous sub-lineages of Omicron, as well as other COVID variants.
Moreover, according to the WHO, early evidence points to a higher risk of reinfections with XBB, as compared to other circulating Omicron sub-lineages.
Has it been detected in India?
Yes, the XBB subvariant has been detected in 9 states on India so far - Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Puducherry (16), Karnataka, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, reported newswire service, IANS.
Given that it has been identified as a highly transmissible variant, XBB is likely to spread to other states soon too.
According to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), nearly 50 percent of the samples sequenced in India last week were of this variant.
Can it evade vaccine protection?
Considering it's a subvariant of Omicron a COVID variant known to evade protection from vaccines and prior infection, XBB too has been observed to escape immunity.
Does it cause more severe illness?
Speaking to FIT for a previous article, virologist Dr Gagandeep Kang explained that more transmissible variants and subvariants are likely to emerge, but the thing to watch is whether it's leading to a rise in severe illnesses and deaths.
In a statement released on 2 November, INSACOG said that cases of XBB detected in India have been mild, and that no increase in severity has been noted yet.