Zimbabweans advised to remain calm as new Covid-19 variant cases emerge

Phillipa Jaja

With six recorded cases of the Eris variant in South Africa, a local medical practitioner has urged Zimbabweans to stay calm, stating that its severity among locals is highly unlikely.

Former Health Minister Dr Henry Madzorera, who is also a healthcare practitioner specialising as a General Practitioner (GP) in Kwekwe, expressed doubts about the strain’s impact on Zimbabweans. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently designated the EG.5.1 variant, known as Eris, as a “variant of interest.”

This novel Covid-19 strain shares a lineage with the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.9.2 and has been identified in several countries, including the United Kingdom, China, and the United States.

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has cautioned that the strain could potentially cause severe symptoms for immune-compromised individuals and those over 65 who are not vaccinated.

Dr Henry Madzorera said that Eris’ impact on Zimbabwe is limited.

“Covid-19 has always been around. The crucial factor is whether anyone has fallen seriously ill due to this new variant or been admitted because of it. If not, there might not be sufficient cause for alarm at the moment. Covid-19 is similar to the flu; hence, closing the country due to a flu-like bug might not be justified. Life should proceed as usual, just like before,” He said.

The WHO has noted that while the variant displays traits such as increased prevalence, growth advantages, and immune evasion properties, there have been no reports of a significant escalation in disease severity so far.

Dr Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead, emphasised that Eris has a higher growth rate than Omicron but does not exhibit an increase in severity.

Regarding the behaviour of the variant, Dr Kerkhove said, “We are observing ‘immune escape,’ indicating a higher risk of reinfection for those who were vaccinated or infected with other variants.”

Eris has also shown up in the US with two new symptoms: nausea and diarrhoea.

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