How dangerous is XBB.1.5 for Australians and what are the precautions you need to follow while traveling?


As we enter the fourth year of the Covid pandemic, a large part of the world is beginning to shift towards treating other respiratory viral diseases.

However, the recent increase in the number of cases in China and the emergence and spread of the new Omicron variant in the Northern Hemisphere show that the epidemic is far from over.

What is the threat to Australia?

According to the World Health Organization, the new umicorn variant, XBB.1.5, has been detected in 29 countries so far.

It is composed of two subspecies BA.2 and is highly transmissible.

The World Health Organization says XBB.1.5 is "the most transmissible sub-mutant to date", and it has quickly replaced other common variants.

In the northeastern part of the United States, XBB.1.5 is responsible for about 70% of new COVID cases, while recent data from the United Kingdom showed that one in 25 cases was caused by the new variant.

To date, eight cases of XBB.1.5 have been detected in Australia.

“XBB.1.5 is going to hit Australia no matter what we do,” says Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist at the University of South Australia.

"XBB.1.5 is likely to cause another wave of cases in Australia," he told SBS.

However, with so many people already infected with COVID-19 and the high rate of vaccination, Professor Esterman believes it is "unlikely to be worse than that caused by the current sub-mutants".
"Early data suggests that XBB.1.5 is more immunogenic than previous types of the virus and that current vaccines still provide strong protection."

“There is currently no data to suggest that XBB.1.5 may cause severe illness (including death).”

The Department of Health and Aged Care told SBS: "The Australian Government continues to closely monitor the domestic and global situation of COVID-19.
At this point, there are no plans to introduce additional border measures."

What about the spread of BF.7 in China?

Australia has begun requiring travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macau to take a COVID-19 test before departure.

Travelers from these destinations must present a negative rapid screening, or NAA, test taken within 48 hours of departure.

"I don't think individuals coming from China pose a significant threat to Australians," Health Minister Mark Butler told ABC Radio National Breakfast on January 2.
"Any restrictions imposed on travelers from certain countries must be evidence-based," he added.

Dr Valli and Professor Esterman say the decision to mandate pre-departure testing was "political" and not in keeping with the risks.

What are the current travel tips?

Although there are no restrictions on travel between China and Australia, the government is currently advising travelers to China to "exercise a high degree of caution".

It is currently advised to "exercise normal safety precautions" when traveling to the United States. However, a COVID test must be taken when entering the country from China, Hong Kong or Macao, before departure.

"The government recommends that travelers ensure they are up-to-date on their immunizations, check the SmartTraveller website and consider relevant travel recommendations."

The Department of Health and Aged Care told SBS: "All Australians must continue to take precautions in high-risk settings, including physical distancing, maintaining hand hygiene, respiratory protection and wearing masks where possible."

What will a pandemic look like in 2023?

As we move from emergency response to learning to live with the virus, it is still likely that we will see repeated waves of infection in 2023.

"We hope that these will continue to decline in terms of their magnitude and impact on health," said Dr. Valley.

We need to be clear that living with COVID does not mean ignoring it.

"This disease will remain a major public health threat for some time."

"So we must continue to apply what we have learned in the past three years to reduce the chances of infection, with the hope that progress in vaccines and treatments will continue over the next year."

"This will lead us to coexist with SARS-CoV-2," Dr. Valli added.



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