Just when you thought Covid-19 was done, the coronavirus has thrown us with another curveball in the form of a new variant. As the virus continues to evolve, new variants are constantly emerging and posing a threat to our health.
The latest variant of concern, known as EG.5 and nicknamed “Eris”, was declared a variant of interest by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO said the new variant does not pose a particular public health risk or threat and is currently most prevalent in the United States.
Declared the first new Covid-19 variant since Omicron in 2021, the Eris variant has caused alarm about whether its introduction may result in a worldwide pandemic re-emerging.
According to reports, the first recorded case of this variant in South Africa was detected in a test sample that was taken on 20 June in Gauteng.
New variants trigger fear
Maleqheka Mosamo from Bloemfontein, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 in 2020, says the continuous trends about the new Covid variant are a trigger and reassemble fear within her.
“I am really concerned about this new variant because I was hospitalised and in isolation in 2020 because of Covid-19. I am worried that it will reoccur because it really kills; hence, I still sanitise and use my mask when I am in crowded places. Whether we like it or not, if it’s here, we have to take care of ourselves,” says Mosamo.
Meanwhile, Fundiswa Nkosi from Paulpietersburg in KwaZulu-Natal, says she was scared when she found out about the EG.5 variant but mentions that at least people are now aware of things to do to protect themselves.
“I was worried about the new variant because I thought it would take us backwards. Now that there are vaccines available and I know I’m able to wear a mask or sanitise when someone close to me is sick, the concern is not too high,” she says.
Don’t underestimate its presence
Speaking to Africa Melane on Cape Talk, the South African Medical Association’s (SAMA) chairperson, Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, says although only one case has been detected in Gauteng, we still have to take its presence seriously.
“There’s no way to know if you’re infected with the Eris variant unless you go for a Covid-19 PCR test once you show signs of coughing, muscle aches, loss of taste, sore throat, and/or sneezing. The new variant is likely to cause severe symptoms for people with underlying medical conditions and those who are older than 65 years,” says Mzukwa.
Mzukwa says the only defence against contracting Covid-19 and its subvariants is vaccination, and thus also advises on the wearing of masks and social distancing going forward.
“The government should encourage citizens who are at high risk to vaccinate and prevent infection, and there should be continuous public messaging on how to avoid infection,” he says.
Highly transmissible but not dangerous
Although Mzukwa confirms that virologists have named the Eris variant the ‘most transmissible of all sub-variants’, which means it might spread to various countries fast, he states that according to what medical professionals know right now, the EG.5 variant is not dangerous.
According to the latest available data concerning Covid-19 from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), 279 Covid-19 cases were detected from all surveillance programmes between January and July 2023.
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