Did Singapore just discover a new and dangerous XBB variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus that is causing a new wave of hospitalisations and deaths?!
Take a look at the viral claim, and find out what the facts really are!
Claim : New XBB Variant Was Just Discovered In Singapore!
Many people have been sharing a link to a CoronaHeadsUp page that claims that the first XBB variant wave just began in Singapore.
Keep wearing your mask. New wave started.
A new variant XBB found in Singapore. Stay safe
The world’s first wave of the recombinant SARS-CoV-2 variant XBB has apparently begun in Singapore.
Twitter is alight with posts claiming that the recombinant SARS-CoV-2 variant XBB is creating a new wave of infections in Singapore
Truth : New XBB Variant Was NOT Discovered In Singapore!
This is yet another example of FAKE NEWS circulating on WhatsApp, and here are the reasons why…
Fact #1 : CoronaHeadsUp Is A Content Aggregator Website
The CoronaHeadsUp website that people keep sharing is basically a content aggregator website, which copies and pastes content from other websites and social media.
They don’t seem to do any actual analysis of the data. They probably have very little knowledge of the subject matter, which is why they focus on “copying and pasting” from other websites and social media.
While that does not make them a fake news website, it doesn’t mean that what they are posting is necessarily true or accurate. It pretty much depends on what they copy and paste.
Many of these content aggregator websites will also embellish their posts to draw readers, or worse – share them on WhatsApp and social media like Facebook and Twitter with catchy but misleading descriptions (like above) to encourage people to share.
Fact #2 : Singapore Called Rumours Of High XBB Mortality False
On October 11, the Singapore Ministry of Health said that the rumours of a significant increase in severe COVID-19 cases and deaths from the XBB strain are untrue.
There have been rumours circulating via WhatsApp that Singapore is having a rapid and large increase in cases with severe illness and deaths due to the circulating XBB strain.
This is not true. We are initiating POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) action against such falsehoods.
Fact #3 : XBB Not Causing High Mortality / Morbidity In Singapore
On October 11, the Singapore Ministry of Health confirmed that the number of severe cases from XBB remained low:
This is very likely due to the resilience built up through vaccination and previous waves of infection. We are monitoring the trajectory closely.
More importantly, there is also no evidence of XBB causing more severe illness. So far, the large majority of patients continue to report mild symptoms such as sore throat or slight fever, especially if they have been vaccinated.
Even though there were over 11,000 cases in Singapore that day, only 11 cases needed to be treated in the ICU, and only 50 patients need oxygen supplementation.
This was much lower than the 171 ICU cases and 308 cases requiring oxygen supplementation at the peak of the Delta wave, and 54 ICU cases and 232 cases requiring oxygen supplementation at the peak of the Omicron wave.
Fact #4 : XBB Is An Omicron Subvariant
While many people refer to XBB as a new COVID-19 variant, it is actually an Omicron subvariant.
As per WHO definition, XBB is a recombinant subvariant of BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 sublineages. In other words – XBB is a mix of the BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 subvariants.
Fact #5 : XBB Was First Detected In August 2022
XBB is a relatively new subvariant that was first discovered on 15 August 2022, with cases detected in Australia, Bangladesh, Denmark, India, Japan, Singapore and the United States
While Dr Gilman Siu Kit-hang of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University claimed that it was first discovered in Singapore, Dr. Sebastian Maurer-Stroh of the A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute disagrees.
Dr. Maurer-Stroh pointed out that the first occurrences of XBB were documented on GISAID (a viral genomic database) from other countries “a few weeks before the first cases in Singapore”.
Regardless of where new variants / subvariants develop, they are often detected earlier in countries that have good genomic surveillance programs.
Fact #6 : XBB “Could” Be More Immune-Evasive
The XBB strain “could” hypothetically be more immune-evasive due to its combination of mutations.
An October 4 preprint study found that XBB had the greatest ability to evade antibody protections, amongst new emerging variants.
This greater immune escape capability could mean that the XBB strain is more capable of infecting people who already have antibody protection from vaccination, or a prior COVID-19 infection.
However, while it may be easier to get infected (and reinfected) by the XBB sub-variant, the evidence still shows vaccination still helps to prevent severe disease and death.
Fact #7 : XBB So Far Produces Mild Disease
The new XBB subvariant is causing a surge in cases in Singapore and Bangladesh, with an increase in hospitalisations but severe disease and deaths remain low.
Both Singapore and Bangladesh have high vaccination rates, with 92% and 78% of their populations receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
This suggests that while the XBB strain may “break through” immunity offered by COVID-19 vaccines or prior COVID-19 infections, patients develop a milder disease.
On Monday, October 10, Hong Kong its first case of XBB.1 – a subvariant of XBB, which was found in a traveller from the United States. That person showed no symptoms.
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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.
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