The National Department of Health has confirmed the first case of the new COVID-19 “Eris” variant from a sample taken in Gauteng.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has, however, indicated that the new variants present a low risk to the public.
“This doesn’t mean we should lower our guard because the virus mutates, which means there is no guarantee that its low severity status will remain unchanged to become a higher risk,” the department said, calling on people to get the jab.
WHO has now designated Eris, also known as EG.5, as a variant of interest (VOI), a subvariant of the Omicron lineage that originally emerged in November of 2021.
The organisation said there has been a steady increase in this variant’s prevalence, with over 7 000 sequences shared from 51 countries as of 7 August 2023.
The Eris variant was initially reported on 17 February 2023 and designated as a variant under monitoring (VUM) on 19 July 2023. The largest portion of EG.5 sequences, according to WHO, are from China, followed by the United States, South Korea, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, France, Portugal and Spain.
Globally, WHO said there has been a steady increase in the proportion of EG.5 reported.
Based on the available evidence, the agency said that the public health risk posed by EG.5 is evaluated as low at the global level, aligning with the risk associated with XBB.1.16 and the other currently circulating variant of interests (VOIs).
However, “due to its growth advantage and immune escape characteristics,” the organisation warned that EG.5 may cause a rise in case incidence and become dominant in some countries or even globally.