The XBB.1.5 variant of COVID-19, also known as Kraken, has been detected by whole genome sequencing in New Zealand. The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) reported the whole genome sequencing results for two COVID-19 cases with XBB.1.5 late last week.
The list of new subvariants appearing within New Zealand is lengthy and growing. Many of these new subvariants are identified by their mutations, but it can take weeks or months to determine whether these mutations will allow a subvariant to out-compete others circulating in the community.
At the early stage of a new variant being identified in New Zealand, it is difficult to predict whether and when it will become established in the community.
The detection of XBB.1.5 is not unexpected, following its recent detection in Australia and globally, and our COVID-19 response accounts for the emergence of new variants.