A 50-year-old Mumbai woman with a travel history to South Africa was earlier this week suspected to have been infected with the newly-discovered ‘XE’, a sub-variant of Omicron, which caused the third wave of Covid-19 this winter.
While the announcement about its possible discovery triggered concern about the likelihood of a fresh wave of infections in India, the Health Ministry, GoI, clarified through “sources” in some newspapers that the identification of the XE variant was yet to be confirmed. In fact, a preliminary analysis had suggested that the virus detected in the patient was not the XE variant, what is called a ‘recombinant’.
A confirmation one way or the other was expected very, may be in a day or two.
XE as per experts contains the mutations found in BA.1 as well as BA.2 varieties of Omicron. This was first discovered in the United Kingdom in January, and so far more than 600 samples of XE have been found in different countries.
While there is no evidence to show that the XE variant is significantly different from the other varieties of Omicron, it could be, as per experts, about 10 per cent more transmissible than the dominant BA.2 variant. At the same time there has been no significant increase in the incidence of the XE variant since its detection three months ago shows that it might not be a big worry at present.
The clinical manifestations of the XE variant so far have not been found to be more severe compared to other Omicron variants. A very important question that begs answer at this juncture is should people and government be worried? The answer seems to be a 50-50 split despite the fact that XE does not seem to be threatening.
The fact is that a fresh wave of infections can never be ruled out, considering that the virus has not been eliminated, and is also undergoing mutations. The fact also remains that a new variant of the virus has special abilities to bypass the immunity gained by human beings and may even cause more severe disease. Re-infection from the same variant is not unknown, but not very common either. A new wave in the near future, if it comes, would most likely be caused by a new variant and XE might not be that candidate, considering it is similar to Omicron. In such a scenario, treading with caution, rather than pressing the panic button, should be the way forward.