File Photo: Men in protective masks wait for the train at a metro station in Cairo. REUTERS
"It is a new variant, not a new virus… and it had been detected more than two months ago… we talked about it before," Hossam Hosny, the head of the Scientific Committee to Combat the Coronavirus at the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, said in TV remarks.
Hosny assured the public that there is no need to panic over the new variant, stressing that adherence to precautions and vaccination recommendations should be maintained, especially for seniors and patients with immune diseases.
His remarks were made in response to media reports that a new virus had been discovered in several countries, including Egypt.
On 18 January, the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region Office (EMRO) said 5,288 sequences of XBB.1.5 have been reported from 38 countries between 22 October 2022 and 11 January 2023.
The majority of these sequences were detected by United States (82.2 percent), United Kingdom (8.1 percent) and Denmark (2.2 percent).
It added that two countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region have reported Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5.
The EMRO said the XBB.1.5 variant – a sub-lineage of the Omicron XBB sub-lineage – may contribute to an increase in cases globally. However, it said no data are currently available regarding the severity of disease associated with XXB.1.5 and assessments are ongoing.
Hosny did not specify whether the subvariant detected in Egypt was the same XBB.1.5 subvariant mentioned in the EMRO statement, but he said "it is not dangerous and does not cause pneumonia" like the previous subvariants and it responds to the new coronavirus drugs.
In early January, Egypt announced it has detected its first case of a highly infectious but mild Omicron subvariant, without specifying the type of the subvariant. It also offered assurances that the country is not facing an increase in the number of COVID cases.
The pandemic took a heavy toll on Egyptians in 2020-2021 before it subsided in 2022.
Between 19 December 2022 and 24 January 2023, Egypt detected a daily average of 134 coronavirus cases and five deaths, according to EMRO's figures.
Some 39 percent of Egypt’s population is fully vaccinated, according to EMRO's latest update on the pandemic in the region.