XE variant raises second wave concerns

Michael Baker. Photo: ODT
Michael Baker. Photo: ODT
New Zealand might have to prepare itself for a second wave of the Omicron virus now that a new variant has been detected in the country, a University of Otago epidemiologist says.

The Ministry of Health reported on Saturday that a person had tested positive for the Omicron XE variant.

The XE variant is a combination of the BA.1 and BA.2 sub-variants.

The ministry said in a statement that arrival of the XE variant was expected and that the health settings in place were appropriate.

University of Otago epidemiologist Prof Michael Baker estimated the XE variant to be about 10% more infectious than the BA.1 and BA.2 sub-variants, giving it a slight advantage.

"Over time, we may see a second wave of the Omicron virus.

"We will probably continue to see five to 15 deaths a day for the foreseeable future," Prof Baker said.

He said relaxing border restrictions and allowing more visitors to New Zealand, combined with waning immunity in those vaccinated and more mixing of people meant there would be more infections.

Vaccination was still the best defence against XE or any new Covid variant.

The coronavirus was evolving rapidly around the world and new mutations could emerge at any time, Prof Baker said.

New Zealand had to prepare for perhaps more dangerous variants.

"The XE variant is a reminder of how connected we all are," Prof Baker said.

The Ministry of Health also reported yesterday that two children under the age of 9 had died from Covid-19 in the past seven days.

There were 7930 community cases, 494 people in hospital, 15 in intensive care and 19 deaths in New Zealand on Saturday.

One of these deaths was in the Southern District Health Board area.

Yesterday there were 5662 community cases, 490 people in hospital, 20 in intensive care and nine deaths.

In the Southern District Health Board area on Saturday there were 929 community cases and 29 people in hospital.

Yesterday, 666 cases were reported and 25 people were in hospital.