WHO on alert as the UK’s rapid spread of the Eris Covid-19 variant continues

The United Kingdom is grappling with a swift rise in Covid-19 cases, driven by a new sub-variant named EG.5.1, or more commonly referred to as Eris. Recognized only at the end of July, Eris quickly gained traction due to a spike in infections. In light of this alarming increase, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged nations to maintain vigilance and adhere to Covid-safe practices.

Recent data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows a concerning uptick in the number of Covid-19 cases across the UK. Out of 4,396 respiratory specimens tested through the Respiratory DataMart System, 5.4% were identified as Covid-19 positive. This shows a significant rise from a previous report which recorded a rate of 3.7% from 4,403 specimens. The overall rate of hospital admissions for Covid-19 during the week increased to 1.97 per 100,000 population, up from 1.17 per 100,000 in the preceding report.

Indian news outlet, India Today, cited UKHSA’s data, highlighting that the Eris sub-variant now accounts for one in every seven new Covid-19 cases in the UK. The agency’s report also mentioned, “EG.5.1 first emerged as a significant trend in monitoring around July 3, 2023, due to its growing prevalence, especially in Asia.” By the end of July, Eris was elevated from a monitoring signal to an official variant designation because of its rising incidence in UK data and continued international spread.

While the rise in cases is undeniable, the UKHSA emphasizes that hospital admission rates remain relatively low. Dr. Mary Ramsay, UKHSA’s Head of Immunization, commented, “While we’ve observed a steady increase in Covid-19 cases recently, the overall hospital admission levels are still minimal. Particularly noteworthy is that ICU admissions have not seen a corresponding spike.” Dr. Ramsay went on to urge the public to maintain regular hygiene practices and recommended isolation for those showing respiratory illness symptoms.

Meanwhile, the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reinforced the importance of continued vigilance. He reassured that current vaccines should offer protection against this new strain, but emphasized the critical need for both nations and individuals to remain alert. Eris, which was initially flagged in July, is now the UK’s second-most dominant strain, closely following the Arcturus variant. Worryingly, Eris is not confined to the UK but is making significant inroads into Europe, Asia, and North America. For instance, Japan is currently grappling with its concerning “ninth wave” of Covid infections driven by this variant.