Travellers coming from India urged to get tested for new Covid subvariant

Travellers coming from India urged to get tested for new Covid subvariant
Research in a Covid-19 lab. Credit: Belga/Dirk Waem

The Brussels health authorities are strongly advising travellers coming to Belgium from India who show Covid-related symptoms to get PCR-tested, following the emergence of a new Omicron sub-variant.

The new BA.2.75 sub-variant emerged in India and has led to a surge in infections in the country. No cases of the new variant have been detected in Belgium yet but experts would like to gain more knowledge about its characteristics.

"There is no reason to be concerned about this variant. The call to get tested is not because we are afraid of it, but rather because we want to study it," virologist Steven Van Gucht told The Brussels Times.

Samples will be studied as part of a research project into the virus (sub)variants by the country's Covid-19 reference laboratory of the KU Leuven university. "The aim is not to keep the variant out, because it has already been detected in several countries outside India."

Passing the baton

Van Gucht explained that while BA.2.75 is driving the strong rise of infections in some states in India, this cannot be compared to the current situation in Belgium or Europe, where the BA.5 variant is still dominant.

"That BA.5 variant of Omicron is causing this new wave across Europe, but it has been detected very little in India. We don't know if this new subvariant would surpass the BA.5 variant if it arrives in Belgium," he explained.

However, even if the BA.2.75 subvariant is detected in Belgium – which is only a matter of time, Van Gucht believes – that does not mean it will be more infectious or more dangerous than any other previous variant.

"You should look at it as a relay race. It isn't that variants are getting stronger but rather that one passes on the baton to the next when it gets tired," he said. "The variants get tired because more people build up immunity against them."

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Van Gucht also stressed that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has recently classified the new subvariant as a Variant of Interest (VOI), not one of Concern (VOC). "That just means that we do not have a lot of info about it yet and would like to know more."

Keeping track of the virus

Now that Belgium and other countries have started looking for these infections, it is only a matter of time before they are found and can be studied. In the meantime, cases have already been found in several other countries, including Australia, Japan, the US, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands.

Travellers entering Belgium from India are strongly advised to have a PCR test performed if they show symptoms, such as a cough, breathing difficulties, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, stuffy nose, sore throat or diarrhoea, and/or have a positive self-test result.

Those wishing to be tested can use the online self-evaluation tool or the form after a positive self-test to obtain a code for a free PCR test in one of the Brussels test centres or pharmacies.

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