A new subvariant of COVID–19 is ripping across the U.S. and Canada.
In British Columbia, health officials confirmed on Tuesday (January 3) that they have detected five cases
so far in the province.
The variant is called XBB.1.5 and has the nickname of a monster, Kraken.
The new subvariant of COVID–19 that was first detected in October and is now present in the U.S.,
Canada, and a number of other countries.
“It is on the increase in the U.S. and Europe and has now been identified in more than 25 countries,”
said World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday (January
The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution says the “rapidly increasing proportion of
XBB.1.5 in the United States and other countries” is an urgent concern and it is preparing a new update
in the next few days.
Meanwhile, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) says there have been five reported cases of the
latest strain as of Tuesday (January 3).
The XBB.1.5 subvariant of Omicron is believed to have become the most dominant strain of COVID–19 in
the U.S. over the holidays.
The BCCDC confirmed the cases but did not say when and where it detected XBB.1.5, which scientists
say is more transmissible than other variants but may not cause more severe disease.
The Kraken subvariant appears to have first arrived some time in the week leading up to December 10,
2022, according to a December. 21 report from the BCCDC on variants of concern.
The report noted that XBB.1.5 had been detected in the Fraser Health Authority, which oversees a vast
area to the east and south of Vancouver.
B.C., like other provinces, no longer offers widespread testing for COVID–19 and only tests the small
proportion of cases involving patients with more severe illness or those at higher risk.
The federal government’s public case dashboard previously reported that XBB.1.5 was first detected in
0.1 per cent of the nearly 3,000 genomic tests done across the country the week of November 20, 2022.
The latest publicly available data, from the week of December 11, show it was found in 0.6 per cent of
the thousand or so samples tested.
Health ministries in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario were not able to say on January 3, 2022 whether
their testing regimes have found this Kraken subvariant of Omicron, which the U.S. Centers for Disease
after Christmas Day, when it represented about 40 per cent of new cases.
In an interview broadcast Monday, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry told Global News that
officials have not seen the subvariant “take off yet.”
“It’s not increasing rapidly here but it is one of the subvariants that we know can take off, particularly
areas where you have lower vaccination rates,” Henry said in a remote interview.
Henry also said, “What we don’t know is: Is this a strain that’s going to cause more severe illness and
hospitalization innately? It doesn’t look like that.”
Although COVID–19 is not as threatening as it once was, public–health officials across the U.S. have
expressed wariness of rising case counts, particularly as part of a “tri–demic” of COVID–19, respiratory
syncytial virus (or RSV) and the flu. Parts of the U.S. have warned about localized shortages of drugs to
treat sick patients, including some antibiotics and pain relievers.
The Kraken variant’s name follows the trend of naming subvariants after mythical creatures.
Other Omicron subvariants have been called Typhon, Cerberus, and Gryphon