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China says new COVID-19 variant unlikely to trigger a fresh infection wave in the country

SINGAPORE, May 19 ------ A new COVID-19 variant gaining ground globally is unlikely to trigger a new infection wave in China as it accounts for a fraction of local cases, which are already at low levels, say the country’s health authorities. 


An offshoot of the Omicron strain, KP.2 was first detected in India in early January. It’s since spread internationally and has become the dominant strain in the United States, a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic still lingers, four years since it was first declared. China detected a local KP.2 case in March in Guangdong province. As of May 12, there have been 25 reported cases nationwide. “The proportion of KP.2 cases in local weekly reports ranges from 0.05 per cent to 0.3 per cent, which is a very low level,” stated the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) in an article published on its official WeChat account on Tuesday (May 14). Coupled with the decrease in JN.1 cases in China, experts believe the possibility of KP.2 becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain locally or triggering a new infection wave is low, China CDC noted. JN.1 is the current dominant strain in the country. China CDC also pointed out that there have not been any reports indicating significant changes in the “pathogenicity or immune evasion capabilities” of KP.2 compared to JN.1. 



Since May 3, KP.2 has been included in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of “COVID-19 variants under monitoring”. According to the WHO website, this term is used to signal to public health authorities that a COVID-19 variant may require prioritized attention and monitoring. 


According to ABC News, KP.2 is now the dominant COVID-19 strain in the US. It currently accounts for an estimated 28.2 per cent of infections there, up from 1.4 per cent in mid-March, the American news outlet reported citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The strain has also made its way to other Western countries like the UK and Australia. 


In Asia, Thailand has reported several KP.2 cases, with local news outlet Bangkok Post stating last week that nine infections had been detected. KP.2 belongs to a group of COVID-19 variants scientists have dubbed “FLiRT”, after the technical names of their mutations. The strains in this group are all descendants of the JN.1 variant, which spread rapidly around the world several months back. Like JN.1 and previous Omicron variants, it may take five or more days before a person starts to develop symptoms after exposure, although symptoms may appear sooner, according to Mr. Andrew Pekosz, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University. “When it comes to symptoms, we’re not seeing anything new or different with these variants,” he added. “We continue to see more mild disease, but that’s likely not because the virus is milder, but because our immunity is so much stronger now.”  



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