With the emergence of the COVID-19 EG.5 variant, how can the public protect themselves effectively?
I. What is the COVID EG.5 variant?

The EG.5 variant is a descendant lineage of XBB.1.9.2 (a sublineage of Omicron) and was first reported in Indonesia on February 17, 2023. On July 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as a Variant Under Monitoring (VUM), and on August 9, it was further designated as a Variant of Interest (VOI), emphasizing the need for global assessment of its characteristics and public health risks. Currently, there are three COVID variants classified as VOIs, including the EG.5 variant, as well as the XBB.1.5 and XBB.1.16 variants, all belonging to the XBB variant lineage.

II. What are the biological characteristics of the EG.5 variant?

The EG.5 variant has shown a rapid increase in its proportion among global circulating strains, indicating a stronger transmission advantage. Studies both domestically and internationally have indicated that the immune escape ability of the EG.5 variant is enhanced, with a decrease in the neutralizing ability of previously generated antibodies against the EG.5 variant. Surveillance data in China shows no significant differences in clinical manifestations between EG.5 variant infections and infections caused by other XBB sub-lineages. In some countries where the EG.5 variant has been prevalent, such as the United States, Japan, and South Korea, there has been an increase in hospitalizations. However, there have been no reports suggesting an increase in disease severity due to infection with the EG.5 variant.

III. What’s the global prevalence of the EG.5 variant?

Since May, the proportion of the EG.5 variant among global circulating strains has been rapidly increasing. As of August 17, the EG.5 variant has been detected and monitored in at least 52 countries or regions worldwide. When looking at its prevalence across continents, except for a lower number of sequenced cases in Africa, the proportion of the EG.5 variant is significantly increasing in Asia, Europe, Oceania, North America, and South America.

IV. What’s the prevalence of the EG.5 variant in China?

Surveillance data in China shows an increasing proportion of the EG.5 variant among circulating strains of the novel coronavirus. It has risen from 0.6% in April to 71.6% in August. Currently, the EG.5 variant has become the dominant strain in most provinces in China and is likely to continue this trend in the near future. Between April and June this year, China experienced the prevalence of the Omicron XBB variant. The population immunity established against the Omicron XBB sub-lineage provides some degree of immune protection against the EG.5 variant, which also belongs to the same sub-lineage. Currently, the overall COVID-19 situation in China remains at a low level with waves of sporadic cases. The pressure on the healthcare system is relatively low, and a large-scale epidemic is not expected in the short term.

V. How can the public protect themselves?

To prevent infection with the EG.5 variant and other variants of the novel coronavirus, the public should continue to practice good personal hygiene habits. This includes maintaining regular sleep patterns, keeping living spaces clean, opening windows for ventilation, engaging in regular physical exercise, ensuring a healthy diet, and boosting immune function. It is recommended that the public, especially older adults and individuals with underlying health conditions, take personal protective measures such as wearing masks properly when using public transportation or visiting crowded indoor public places.

In addition, getting vaccinated can effectively prevent COVID-19 infections. As of July 31, 2023, the Comprehensive Group of the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council has issued the "Work Plan for COVID-19 Vaccination among Key Populations in the Near Future." During the prevalence of the XBB variant, particularly in the fall and winter seasons of this year, vaccination with vaccines containing XBB variant antigens is prioritized. Individuals aged 60 and above who have completed their primary vaccination or have been infected with COVID-19, individuals aged 18-59 with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems, and individuals at high risk of infection can receive one dose of the vaccine containing XBB variant antigens after 3-6 months if they have completed their last vaccination or had their last infection 6 months ago (the more recent of the two situations applies).

According to the opinions of the Vaccine Research and Development Task Force of the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council and the recommendations by the National Health Commission, the National Medical Products Administration has organized the evaluation and agreed that the Recombinant COVID-19 Trivalent (XBB + BA.5 + Delta) Protein Vaccine (Sf9 Cell) developed by WestVac BioPharma can be used for emergency use within a certain range. This vaccine can be administered to key populations in the near future.