India sees first case of Omicron’s new sub-variant XE from Mumbai


India on Wednesday reported its first case of Covid-19 variant XE in Mumbai. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) today said that one patient was affected by the ‘XE’ variant while the other one was affected by the ‘Kapa’ variant of Covid-19.

The XE mutant appears to be 10% more transmissible than the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron. The patients with the new variants of the virus don’t have any severe symptoms till now.

Out of the 230 patients from Mumbai whose samples were sent for genome sequencing, 228 are positive for Omicron, one Kappa and one XE.

Around 21 of the total 230 patients had to be hospitalised, though none of them needed oxygen or intensive care. Twelve of those hospitalised were unvaccinated and nine had taken both Covid-19 shots.

“The results of 11th test under the Covid virus genetic formula determination – 228 or 99.13% (230 samples) patients detected with Omicron,” the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation said.

The World Health Organization said a hybrid of two omicron strains — BA.1 and BA.2 — that was first detected in the UK and dubbed XE could be the most transmissible variant yet. 

It is estimated to spread 10% more easily than BA.2, which itself was more transmissible than the original omicron famous for its ease of penetration.

As per the initial studies, the XE variant has a growth rate of 9.8% over that of BA.2, also known as the stealth variant because of its ability to evade detection.

Asian infections

The novel strains from around the world are now cropping up in Asia. The first infection caused by the XE variant in Thailand was detected recently, while in February a different recombinant variant was found in two people who arrived in Hong Kong from Europe. 

The strain hasn’t been detected in the community, and the two travelers recovered fully.

Most of the infections in China and Hong Kong, where more than half of the city is estimated to have been infected since the start of the year, stem from existing variants thus far, said Stephen Goldstein, a virologist from the University of Utah. 

So while the outbreaks are an emergency for the governments and public health officials, they don’t currently represent a global health threat, he said.

“I don’t really expect a new variant to emerge from the omicron epidemics in Hong Kong and China,” Goldstein said. “That said, this virus has certainly surprised us before and we need to stay vigilant.”

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