The new coronavirus variant EG.5 is spreading worldwide, but experts do not consider it to be particularly dangerous. “In my opinion, EG.5 does not pose any particular risk,” said Richard Neher, head of the Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria research group at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel.

The EG.5 variant does have a mutation that may mean that it can evade the immune system a little more easily. “But the same mutation can also be found in other variants,” Neher explained. “The variant is remarkable because it is common in China – and thus a large population – and has rapidly increased in frequency there in recent weeks.”

“We certainly have to assume that at the end of the summer and after a phase with very low case numbers, the numbers will increase again,” said Neher. “But EG.5 is not fundamentally different from other variants, but shows a gradual – but rapid – evolution, as we have been observing for Sars-CoV-2 for some time.”

Risk assessed as low

According to current knowledge, the risk to public health emanating from EG.5 is low, wrote the World Health Organization (WHO) a few days ago. It matches the risk posed by XBB.1.16 and some other variants currently circulating. EG.5, sometimes also called Eris, spreads remarkably quickly and can escape the immune system comparatively easily. The severity of the disease is unchanged compared to other current variants.

The spread of EG.5 has increased globally within four weeks from 7.6 percent of reported corona cases to 17.4 percent (week 17-23 July) since mid-June, the WHO reported. Due to rapid spread and greater immune flight, EG.5 may soon become the dominant variant in some countries or even worldwide. Within the variant EG.5, the subline EG.5.1 is by far the most common. They have an additional mutation on the spike protein, which is important for entering cells.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, EG.5 was first registered in Germany at the end of March 2023 and is currently also spreading here, in particular the subline EG.5.1. The Institute agrees with the statements on the danger of the WHO.

The WHO on Wednesday upgraded the EG.5 variant to the category “virus variants of interest”. There are currently three variants in this group: In addition to EG.5, there are XBB.1.5 and XBB.1.16.