European health officials warned that the new, highly mutated Pirola coronavirus variant is circulating on the continent and may be behind an uptick in Covid-19 cases.
The strain, officially called BA.2.86, was detected sporadically during August and could be a factor in the recent noticeable increase in infections, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.
Officials from Europe and elsewhere are encouraging countries to re-double Covid vaccination efforts—especially for people at risk of serious illness—as the fall and winter approach in the Northern Hemisphere.
There’s no evidence that emerging variants are associated with more severe disease or a reduction of vaccine effectiveness, ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said in the statement.
Still, the recent rise in infections comes at a time of increased travel and large gatherings—and coincides with reports of waning immunological protection against infection, the agency said.
Europe has also seen a drop in Covid surveillance efforts this year, potentially making it harder for policymakers to respond quickly to emerging threats from the virus.
Scientists are watching the new strain closely because it has many new mutations, raising the possibility it could spread. However, it’s too soon to know how transmissible it is, or whether it produces more severe symptoms than older variants, according to a statement from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. Bloomberg News