CORONAVIRUS/Expert predicts new wave of COVID subvariants to come, peak in March

01/18/2023 09:31 PM
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CNA file photo
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Taipei, Jan. 18 (CNA) New COVID-19 subvariants will become dominant in Taiwan later this year, with a new wave most likely arriving and peaking in March, National Taiwan University College of Public Health professor Chen Hsiu-hsi (陳秀熙) projected Wednesday.

At a livestream where he and his research team lectured about "Science and COVID-19," Chen focused specifically on the new XBB.1.5 subvariant on Wednesday.

Nicknamed "Kraken" after the Norwegian mythological sea monster, the XBB.1.5 has been dubbed the most transmissible Omicron subvariant so far, Chen said.

The subvariant currently accounts for one-quarter of new infections in the United States, while the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control predicted that the XBB.1.5 would peak in Europe within the next two months.

Chen analyzed that Taiwan's current epidemic outbreak could peak around mid-January and would very likely start to decline from that point thanks to the herd immunity developed from the wave of Omicron BA.2 and BA.5 subvariants.

From his team's observation, Chen said, it looked like Taiwan could enjoy a relatively safe Lunar New Year holiday which runs from Jan. 20-29.

With efficient epidemic control measures, Taiwan may even be able to lower its COVID-19 restrictions after the holiday, Chen added, though the possibility is uncertain due to the opening of the borders making Taiwan susceptible to the XBB.1.5 and BQ.1 Omicron subvariants.

The expert cautioned that the subvariants could result in a new wave of infections that would likely peak in the beginning of March.

He explained that in addition to being highly contagious, XBB.1.5 could also avoid antigens, potentially creating challenges for Taiwan's medical system.

Chen went on to say that conversely, the subvariant could also expedite the development of Taiwan's herd immunity against the virus.

Science and COVID-19 Video

From researching the worldwide effect of the virus, Chen's research team further shared several strategic habits that the general public could abide by to safeguard themselves and their families.

For instance, individuals with weak immune systems should receive bivalent COVID-19 vaccines.

Moreover, masks should be worn in crowded areas and the government should introduce antigen rapid testing as soon as possible to better utilize Taiwan's medical resources.

(By Chen Chih-chung and James Lo)

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