Fast-spreading new coronavirus variant found in Czechia

The variant has been spreading rapidly in the US and is said to be 'immune evasive.'

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 04.01.2023 15:58:00 (updated on 04.01.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Two cases of a purportedly dangerous new coronavirus variant have been detected by laboratories in the Czech Republic. The variant has been spreading in the U.S., where it has caused a rising number of hospitalizations, writes ČTK.

The Omicron XBB.1.5 variant is currently behind about 40 percent of all Covid-19 cases in the U.S. – up from 1.3 percent at the start of December, according to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Director of Covid-19 sequencing at the University of Washington Pavitra Roychoudhury said in CNN News that “for a few months now, we haven’t seen a variant that’s take off at [this] speed.” Cases containing the new variant in the U.S. have doubled in the past week, and the reproduction number is 1.6 (anything above 1 indicates that it will spread).


  • Over 64 percent of the population fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
  • About 591 people currently hospitalized due to Covid-19 (48 in intensive care).
  • An estimated 5,000 people have Covid-19 today, from 36,000 in October 2022.

    Sources: Ministry of Health, Johns Hopkins University

Although the variant appears more infectious than others, current data does not suggest that it is riskier, reports CNBC has said it is “highly immune evasive.”

In Czechia, other Covid-19 variants have also been detected recently, such as BF.7, BA.5, and BQ.1. Together, they make up more than half of new Covid-19 cases.

In its weekly report, Czechia’s State Health Institute (SZÚ) also warned against any unnecessary prescribing of the Molnupiravir antiviral drug, which can be harmful to people taking immunosuppressants (such as cancer patients).

Molnupiravir’s “rash application could lead to the creation of the emergency variant SARS-CoV-2 that might have a serious epidemiological and clinical impact,” said experts at the institute. 

It was also announced last week that antiviral drugs Paxlovid and Lagevrio will be available to purchase in all Czech pharmacies from January 2023.

Stable situation at home – so far

No recent uptick in Covid-19 cases is visible in Czechia so far. The seven-day rolling average number of cases in Czechia is 493 as of Jan. 3, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. This compares with over 1,100 six months ago. 

About 10 people on average are dying from Covid-19-related complications per day as of early January – a sharp decline from 60 in the year-earlier period.

However, a recent uptick in respiratory cases in the country combined with a potential rise in new incidences of the XBB.1.5 variant may put strain on the country's hospitals.

The emergence of the new variant in Czechia comes amid the partial opening of borders in China, a country mired in Covid-19 cases. Czechia recently announced that it will not create separate testing rules for people flying from China to the country, as is the case in Italy.

“An expert discussion is taking place at the EU level to assess the situation and apply possible measures,” said Ministry of Health spokesperson Ondřej Jakob last week, as reported by ČTK. The government recommends no travel to China unless for essential reasons. 

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