World faces the threat of new coronavirus variants

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Omicron subvariants with high transmission risks are becoming dominant, raising the number of COVID-19 infections in more than 50 countries around the world.

People wearing protective face masks walk past a business displaying a sign requiring face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington, US. (Photo: Reuters)
People wearing protective face masks walk past a business displaying a sign requiring face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington, US. (Photo: Reuters)

The continual mutation of the coronavirus is a constant threat, demanding countries to stay vigilant and stand ready to deal with all epidemic scenarios that could happen in the future.

According to the WHO, the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is now the dominant strain in the world. Other subvariants such as BA.4 and BA.5 are also on the watchlist. About 700 BA.4 cases have been detected in at least 16 countries and 300 BA.5 cases in 17 countries. The WHO’s technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, said these two subvariants do not make people sicker than the original Omicron variant but are more contagious. Another subvariant called BA.2.12.1 has also appeared in 23 countries with over 9,000 cases.

Due to its high transmission rate, Omicron has many chances to mutate, leading to the emergence of a string of subvariants. But the risk of new outbreaks does not come from Omicron subvariants alone. Recently, Israeli scientists have warned of the resurgence of the Delta variant, which once swept the world and left severe consequences in many countries.

The severity of subvariants remains unknown but one certain thing is new outbreaks will undermine the global recovery achievements recorded after all the hard work in the past two years of the pandemic.

Thanks to the vaccination campaign and epidemic prevention measures, the battle against COVID-19 across the world has entered a new phase as life is gradually returning to normal. Economic recovery and development are now the top priority of countries after most activities were interrupted for a long period.

According to the World Tourism Organisation, global international tourists in January more than doubled compared to a year earlier. Most regions in the world are welcoming tourists back, with Europe and the Americas recording the strongest growth rates. But the WHO has warned that COVID-19 remains a global health emergency and advised countries to equip themselves with effective tools to respond to any possible situations.

The second Global COVID-⁠19 Summit garnered new financial commitments worth a total of 3.2 billion USD, including over 2 billion USD for direct response activities and about 962 million USD for future pandemic preparedness and global health security.

The US is stepping up research into second-generation vaccines. Analysts said that although the first-generation vaccines have helped reduce the number of deaths, severe cases and hospitalisations, they may no longer be effective against new variants. Therefore, research into second-generation vaccines will play an important role. Some countries, such as Peru and Colombia, have administered fourth doses to increase immunity while Cuba is focusing on the safety of vaccination for infant babies.

In the past two years plus, the coronavirus has undergone many mutations, resulting in the emergence of more and more new variants. The road to the end of COVID-19 remains long and bumpy, requiring countries not to be complacent as the risk of new outbreaks is always present.