Spain detects cases of new highly contagious XE Covid variant

Just as Spain drops its indoor mask-wearing rules, Spanish health authorities have warned that a new highly contagious but largely unstudied Covid variant has been detected in the country.

Covid-19 PCR tests
Spain detects new XE variant. Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

Spain’s Health Alerts and Emergencies Centre(Ccaes) has detected the new XE variant of Covid-19 in Spain.

Coinciding with Spain’s decision to end the indoor mask rule, the emergence of XE is worrying, but so far has only been detected in very low numbers – less than two percent of cases.

XE is a new super contagious Covid variant, which is a combined version of Omicron and the so-called ‘Stealth’ or ‘Silent’ Omicron subvariant, as the latter often can’t be detected via Covid-19 tests.

Despite the fact that its presence in Spain is low, Spain’s Ministry of Health warns that according to the latest reports from the United Kingdom, Covid XE has grown in recent weeks at a rate higher than that of ‘Stealth Omicron’ or BA.2.

However, Ccaes confirms that the ‘Stealth’ Omicron variant is still the dominant variant in Spain for now.

READ ALSO – ‘Stealth’ Omicron is now the dominant strain in Spain: What you should know

Covid XE could be the most contagious of all the variants

XE is what’s called a “recombinant” variant, which can occur when a person becomes infected with two or more variants at the same time, causing their genetic material to mix within a patient’s body.

The new strain was detected for the first time in the UK on January 19th 2022 with more than 600 cases and was later reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the beginning of April.

However, the WHO stressed that studies into the global spread of Covid-19 over recent weeks are still being carried out due to the lower number of tests. 

Currently, there are more than 1,100 cases of the new variant in the UK and experts there warn it could become the new dominant strain.

There have also been cases detected in Japan, Thailand, Israel and India.  

Global health experts say it is too soon to form conclusions on XE’s severity or reaction to vaccines, and this latest variant isn’t the first “recombinant” that’s developed during the pandemic.

However, early studies suggest XE may be more transmissible than previous strains such as Omicron, having so far demonstrated a slightly higher infection rate than its predecessor.

The WHO so far estimates it could be 10 percent more contagious than ‘Stealth Omicron’ subvariant, which in turn was 75 percent more infectious than the original Omicron variant.

Symptoms of XE 

According to a report on the XE variant issued by the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA), this variant is so far producing symptoms similar to Omicron, which include fever, cough, runny nose, tiredness and headaches.  

However, it says that “there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions” about how the new XE variant will behave. 

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”