Examine, a free weekly newsletter covering science with a sceptical, evidence-based eye, is sent every Tuesday. Below is an excerpt – sign up to get the whole newsletter in your inbox.

You’ve probably by now heard about the latest variant, XBB.1.5, emerging from the viral soup of Omicron-offspring to menace society. Ryan Gregory, the Canadian evolutionary biologist who has become something of an unofficial namer-of-variants, calls it Kraken, and it slides into his mythological menagerie alongside Basilisk (BA.2.3.20) and Argus (BJ.1).

Professor Robert Booy, leading COVID-19 expert and friend of Examine, told my colleague, Melissa Cunningham, he’s calling XBB.1.5 “the extra bad boy”. “It is spreading like crazy in the US”.

The kraken COVID variant is dominating infections in the US but has only been found in limited numbers in Australia. Kraken is the name of a legendary sea monster off the coast of Norway as well as the new variant.

But … after several years of covering variants, Kraken leaves me cold. I’ve written a lot of stories about scary new variants only to see them go nowhere. Or they come to dominate globally but – unlike Alpha, Delta and Omicron – don’t really seem to change the pandemic in any meaningful way.

It left me wondering whether it might be time, finally, to stop reporting on every new variant that shows up. To my surprise, some (but not all) of Australia’s virologists believe we should do exactly that.

“I am in strong agreement that there is little to no public health value in continuing to report the latest Omicron scariant,” says Dr Adam Wheatley, who heads a research team studying the immune response to COVID-19 at the University of Melbourne.

As viruses replicate in our cells, their genetic-copying machinery makes small errors. Some of these errors, or mutations, will change the virus in important ways, perhaps by modifying the protein it uses to hook onto our cells, or altering the virus’ shape in a way that makes it harder for antibodies to stick on.

QOSHE - It’s time to stop worrying so much about new variants - Liam Mannix
menu_open
Columnists . News Actual . Favourites . Archive
We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

It’s time to stop worrying so much about new variants

6 75 1
17.01.2023

Examine, a free weekly newsletter covering science with a sceptical, evidence-based eye, is sent every Tuesday. Below is an excerpt – sign up to get the whole newsletter in your inbox.

You’ve probably by now heard about the latest variant, XBB.1.5, emerging from the viral soup of Omicron-offspring to menace society. Ryan Gregory, the Canadian evolutionary biologist who has become something of an unofficial namer-of-variants, calls it Kraken, and it slides into his mythological........

© The Sydney Morning Herald


Get it on Google Play