Officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) have issued fresh COVID-19 warnings amid a surge in a subvariant they say is the most transmissible ever recorded.
The new variant has been detected in at least 29 countries, including the U.S. and across Europe.
XBB.1.5 is a subvariant of the Omicron strain and has had a global surge in recent weeks.
The WHO has recommended new protective measures, including mask-wearing on long-haul flights and ensuring ventilation in crowded and public places.
Where has it spread?
Latest forecasts from the U.S. Centre for Disease Control project that more than 27% of new cases in the U.S. are from the XBB.1.5 subvariant.
China is believed to be experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak too, though it’s unclear if this is linked to XBB.1.5. According to the WHO, local data is downplaying the true extent of the latest surge in cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
The subvariant has also been detected in Europe.
What about Australia?
Eight total cases of XBB.1.5 have been detected in Australia, according to COVID-19 data platform CoV-Spectrum.
Unlike countries in the Northern Hemisphere, Australia isn’t in its typical flu season, which means it is better positioned to manage a COVID-19 surge.
Australia has already placed restrictions on travellers arriving from China, due to the recent outbreak.
There are still high numbers of COVID-19 infections in Australia.
Average daily cases surpassed 16,000 last month for the first time since August, but have gradually fallen since then.
The last reported national daily COVID-19 cases (3 January) were just below 9,000.
These figures are considered an underestimate due to the easing of mandatory reporting rules for positive COVID-19 tests.