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Germany monitoring new Covid variant closely, says Health Minister

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Germany monitoring new Covid variant closely, says Health Minister
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wears a mask during a press conference in 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says experts are monitoring whether a new Omicron sub-variant of Covid-19 causing concern in the USA is appearing in Germany.

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The sub-variant, known as XBB.1.5, is another strain of the Omicron Covid variant. It is the most transmissible variant to date according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

According to estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the sub-variant accounted for about 40.5 percent of all new infections in the US in the week leading up to the new year.  At the beginning of December, it accounted for about four percent of cases.

The US has also seen Covid hospital admissions rising in recent weeks. It is particularly prevalent in the north-east of the country.

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Health Minister Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, said he was watching the situation closely.

"The new XBB.1.5 variant is causing hospital admissions to rise in the north-east of the USA," he said.

"Hopefully, we will get through the winter before such a variant can spread in our country. We are monitoring whether and how strongly XBB.1.5 is appearing in Germany."

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The mutation has been detected in 29 countries so far, with an increased incidence in Europe recently. 

The WHO said it is monitoring the spread of the variant discovered in October, which is the "most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet", according to Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO's Corona pandemic programme.

So far, however, there is no evidence that XBB.1.5 causes more severe illness than other virus variants.

Van Kerkhove said that the increase in cases make it clear how important it is to continue to monitor Covid-19 worldwide.

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