The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) has detected the COVID-19 subvariant BA.2.86 in New Zealand for the first time in wastewater samples taken earlier this month, the Ministry of Health has confirmed today.
The Ministry said the subvariant was first detected in late July in Denmark and Israel, and cases have been slowly increasing globally.
“It has not yet been detected in New Zealand in any people hospitalised with COVID-19,” it said in a statement.
BA.2.86 has been deemed a ‘variant under monitoring’ by the World Health Organization. However, there are no indications at this stage it is substantially more severe or infectious than other subvariants circulating in our communities, the Ministry said.
“Manatū Hauora – the Ministry of Health and ESR are carrying out surveillance on this and other subvariants and closely monitoring developments here and overseas, as well as emerging international evidence.”
“Preliminary evidence suggests that COVID-19 vaccines available in New Zealand remain effective against BA.2.86.
“The detection of BA.2.86 is a good reminder that COVID-19 has not gone away so please continue to test if you’re symptomatic and stay home if you’re sick,” it said.
Meanwhile, the first case of the variant, colloquially known as Pirola, has been detected in Australia.
Western Australia’s health department today confirmed it has conducted genomic sequencing on a local case which shows it is “without significant differences” to BA.2.86 variants found overseas that have sparked global concern.
The new variant has so far been detected in 15 countries through genomic sequencing.
More advice is available on the Unite against COVID-19 webpage.