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Thursday Thunder: New Omicron Subvariant in the US + Hong Kong Dropping Restrictions

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Hong Kong city.

It’s been almost three years since the COVID pandemic started, and it’s certainly starting to look as if it’s already behind us. Nevertheless, this is not the case for many countries in the world.

In this traveler’s report, we’ll take a look at a new Omicron subvariant surging in the US and the update on preventive measures in Hong Kong.

Ready? Let’s start.

New Omicron Subvariant in the US

According to the latest data from the CDC, there’s a new Omicron subvariant causing most COVID infections in the US: the XBB.1.5 strain.

This new variant and the XBB strain together have outperformed the rest of the Omicron subvariants, causing a total of 44% of COVID cases in the U.S.

XBB.1.5 is a mix between the Omicron BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 strains. However, it’s proving to be more effective at evading antibodies created by vaccines and previous COVID infections. Therefore, people infected with this variant are more likely to show symptoms than those with other Omicron strain infections.

Luckily, there’s no need to worry: the symptoms of this variant are the same as those of any other Omicron strain. Plus, no evidence suggests that XBB.1.5 is more contagious than other strains.

Although this COVID wave alone isn’t expected to overwhelm the US healthcare system, it’s not to take lightly. Due to the holiday season, people have been traveling more and gathering in large groups without taking disease-preventive precautions. Hence, on top of this new COVID subvariant, the US is expecting a surge of flu and RSV.

If you plan to travel to the US, don’t forget to take preventive measures:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Don’t stay in large gatherings indoors without wearing a mask
  • Test for COVID and flu if you experience any symptoms

Hong Kong Drops Restrictions

Ever since September 2022, Hong Kong has been making efforts to ease COVID restrictions for inbound travelers. This was manifested, for instance, with the ending of the mandatory hotel quarantine policy.

This week, a step further was taken. Hong Kong’s leader announced that PCR tests would no longer be mandatory before visiting the city.

The reason behind this measure, he explained, is that more than 90% of the population has received at least two vaccine doses, while more than 80% has received at least 3.

China’s Next Steps

Hong Kong’s new measure is great news for travelers and will slowly be extended to the rest of China.

For starters, the country announced that this Sunday it’ll open up its borders to those who are:

  • Immigrating with work and study visas
  • Visiting their families

And, even though this measure doesn’t apply to tourists yet, a pilot program is said to begin soon for international cruise ships.

China’s new COVID pill

In parallel to these new measures, a promising COVID treatment is being tested in China: a new antiviral pill. The trial’s results indicate that it’s similar to Paxlovid. Adults with mild-to-moderate COVID would benefit from it by preventing the progression of their illness.

What’s so promising about this pill is that, besides its effectiveness as a treatment, it’s showing 10% fewer side effects than the Paxlovid pill.

Key Takeaways

As we’ve seen from the US case, COVID is far from disappearing. Luckily, the latest variants are not remotely as fatal as the original strain. Plus, China’s COVID policies are progressively easing.

You can help keep things under control by getting all your recommended vaccine doses and taking preventive measures, especially if you’re traveling. Find your nearest COVID testing center before and after your trip in our global directory.

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