New ‘Centaurus’ coronavirus variant surfacing in multiple countries

There’s a new coronavirus omicron variant surfacing in multiple countries throughout Europe and Asia, signaling that COVID-19 remains much of a threat across the globe. 

The latest variant is labeled as BA.2.75. Some countries have dubbed it "Centaurus." According to The Washington Post, the name randomly came from a Twitter user before countries latched on to it. 

South Korea recently confirmed its first case of the BA.2.75 variant that was found in a sample analysis of a man in his 60s who lives in Incheon and first developed symptoms on July 8.

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The Netherlands also reported cases, saying it has joined other countries who have reported cases including India, Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

So far, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not listed the variant on its website.

Scientists say the variant – called BA.2.75 – may be able to spread rapidly and get around immunity from vaccines and previous infections. It’s unclear whether it could cause more serious disease than other omicron variants, including the globally prominent BA.5.

"It’s still really early on for us to draw too many conclusions," said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "But it does look like, especially in India, the rates of transmission are showing kind of that exponential increase." Whether it will outcompete BA.5, he said, is yet to be determined.

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Still, the fact that it has already been detected in many parts of the world even with lower levels of viral surveillance "is an early indication it is spreading," said Shishi Luo, head of infectious diseases for Helix, a company that supplies viral sequencing information to the CDC.

Fueling experts’ concerns are a large number of mutations separating this new variant from omicron predecessors. Some of those mutations are in areas that relate to the spike protein and could allow the virus to bind onto cells more efficiently, Binnicker said.

But experts say vaccines and boosters are still the best defense against severe COVID-19. In the fall it’s likely the U.S. will see updated formulations of the vaccine being developed that target more recent omicron strains.

It may take several weeks to get a sense of whether the latest omicron mutant may affect the trajectory of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Dr. Gagandeep Kang, who studies viruses at India’s Christian Medical College in Vellore, said the growing concern over the variant underlines the need for more sustained efforts to track and trace viruses that combine genetic efforts with real-world information about who is getting sick and how badly. "It is important that surveillance isn’t a start-stop strategy," she said.

The World Health Organization said that coronavirus cases have tripled across Europe in the past six weeks, accounting for nearly half of all infections globally. Hospitalization rates have also doubled, although intensive care admissions have remained low.

WHO said the 53 countries in its European region, which stretches to central Asia, reported nearly 3 million new coronavirus infections last week and that the virus was killing about 3,000 people every week. Globally, COVID-19 cases have increased for the past five weeks, even as countries have scaled back on testing.

Cases are also rising in the U.S., but not nearly at the levels seen during the last surgery over the winter

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.