Consider working from home to combat ‘Squatting’ variant, EU countries told

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European countries should consider a return to home working and the use of face masks to stem the spread of a new Covid strain nicknamed ‘Kraken’, EU health officials have said.

This is despite the conclusion that the species, which is on the rise in the US and other countries including the UK, poses a “low” risk to the general population of Europe.

In a briefing published Friday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said there are “currently no signs” that the Omicron subvariant, officially named XBB.1.5, is more serious than other strains in circulation.

ECDC said it remained unknown whether the Covid vaccines used will continue to be effective against XBB.1.5, but suggested they would continue to protect against serious illness.

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However, “in view of the expected spread” of XBB.1.5 across the continent, ECDC proposed numerous options for responding to the variant.

This includes consideration of “time-limited and targeted non-pharmaceutical community interventions, such as teleworking, appropriate use of face masks and proper ventilation of indoor spaces, tailored to the epidemiological and health care situation and community needs.”

Risk for the medically vulnerable

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said countries should consider recommending passengers wear masks on long-haul flights given the rapid spread of XBB.1.5 in the US.

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ECDC also urged European countries to “improve the timely uptake of Covid-19 vaccines” and “maintain or improve appropriate levels of Sars-CoV-2 testing and sequencing…”

It said the impact of XBB.1.5 on the general European population is expected to be “low”.

However, for vaccinated vulnerable individuals, such as those with compromised immune systems, the variant is “rated as moderate”, while for unvaccinated people with underlying health conditions it is “high” risk.

Health officials in the UK have not identified XBB.1.5 as a variant of concern, but believe it could spread to become the country’s dominant Covid strain in the coming months.

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XBB.1.5 was created when two other Omicron variants merged and forged a new set of mutations, giving it highly transferable properties.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) carries out only a small fraction of all Covid tests, but has so far confirmed only 161 known cases of XBB.1.5 in the UK, with 136 in England. A majority have been detected in the North West (35) and London (27), the UKHSA said.

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