Omicron Subvariant Spreads, WHO Advises Long-Range Airplane Passengers to Wear Masks. PHOTO/Reuters
LONDON – Countries of the world should consider recommending that passengers wear masker on long haul flights, given the rapid deployment of Omicron subvariants Covid-19 newest in United States of America .
In Europe, the XBB.1.5 subvariant was detected in small numbers, but increasing, WHO and European officials said in a press conference, Tuesday (10/1/2023).
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“Passengers should be advised to wear masks in high-risk settings such as long-haul flights,” said WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, as quoted by Reuters.
“This should be a recommendation issued for passengers arriving from anywhere where there is widespread COVID -19 transmission,” he continued.
XBB.1.5 — the most infectious Omicron subvariant detected so far — accounted for 27.6 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States for the week ending January 7, health officials said.
It is unclear whether XBB.1.5 will cause its own global wave of infections. Current vaccines continue to protect against severe symptoms, hospitalization and death, experts say.
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“Countries need to look at the evidence base for pre-departure testing and if action is being considered, travel measures should be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner,” Smallwood said.
Steps that could be taken include genomic surveillance, and targeting passengers from other countries as long as resources are not diverted from domestic surveillance systems. Others include wastewater monitoring around entry points such as airports.
XBB.1.5 is another derivative of Omicron, the most contagious and currently dominant variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 globally. It is an offshoot of XBB, first detected in October, which is a recombinant of two other Omicron subvariants.
Concerns about XBB.1.5 triggering a spate of new cases in the United States and beyond have continued to mount amid a spike in COVID cases in China, after the country moved away from its signature “zero COVID” policy last month.