NEW Covid strains dubbed the "Grandchildren of Omicron" have begun spreading, prompting warnings of new lockdowns from experts.
The "variant soup" of strains have already been detected in Australia, China and across of Europe.
Infectious disease physician Dr Paul Griffin said there were several subvariants he was "watching closely" – including two offshoots known as XBB and BQ.
He told Aussie morning news show Sunrise: "Some have described it as a ‘variant soup’, because there are so many new ones at the moment.
"Perhaps the two most concerning are BQ which is an offshoot of BA5, which has been detected mainly in Europe and the US, and around 10 per cent of cases globally.
"And the other is XBB which has been causing problems in Singapore and India."
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BA.5 is a subvariant of extremely infectious Omicron that swept across the world last winter and is believed to be the source of other mutations like BF.7 and BA.5.1.7 currently hitting China.
Dr Griffin said the variants looked "a bit" more infectious than previous strains.
"They may also be better at evading our immune response both from past infection and from vaccination, so it certainly highlights that the pandemic is not over," he warned.
The renowned doctor said though they didn't appear to cause severe disease, they still pose a danger.
"For this reason, it’s really important that we’re up-to-date with our vaccines, including our new improved Omicron-specific booster that’s now available in our country," he said.
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The warning comes as Australia's chief scientist Prof Paul Kelly warned the "grandchildren of Omicron" had landed.
He said cases of the subvariants "certainly are rising" and warned the "future is a matter of speculation".
"These are more transmissible variants, but not more severe compared with where we were 12 months ago," he said.
The Aussie doctor refused to rule out a new wave of lockdowns to slow down the spread.
"My advice at the moment is to be alert but not afraid, I think it would be a good way to look at it," he said, adding the chance of a lockdown over Xmas was "unlikely".
The XBB variant first emerged in Singapore and is said to be spreading across Sydney and Melbourne.
Lockdowns have been met with fierce resistance by everyday Australians who faced one of the longest shutdowns in the world.
Last October, Melbourne ended a spate of lockdowns that lasted 262 days while more than half the country's 25million people had been ordered to stay at home over an outbreak which began in Sydney.
Australia was also one of the last countries to scrap Covid isolation rules when they were axed earlier this month.
In July last year, thousands of anti-lockdown protesters flooded streets across Melbourne and Sydney.
In China, more than 200millions people face a fresh lockdown as the Communist Party rollout draconian new restrictions despite just a handful of cases.
Some 28 cities – including the virus's ground zero Wuhan – are now under a wave of crippling new measures.
Data released to The Sun Online economic analysis firm Nomura shows 208million people are currently living under some level of lockdown in the country.
It is believed two highly contagious subvariant of Omicron – BF.7 and BA.5.1.7 – are responsible for the recent spike in cases.
China officials have described the variants as "highly contagious" as they can also infect people who had been previously immune.
"According to government statistics and our survey, 28 cities are
currently implementing various levels of lockdown or some kind of district-based control measures," said Nomura.
Nomura added the total number of people under restrictions has actually fallen from the previous week's figures of 225million.
But the strictest of the lockdowns has actually increased and is now impacting 8.5 per cent of China's GDP.
Beijing is taking a no-tolerance approach to the virus – enforcing the new rules after just 20 to 25 new infections a day this week.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping – who was this week made "Emperor for Life" – is continuing to roll out what has been dubbed as the "world's strictest lockdown".
Cops wearing hazmat suits and wielding machine guns have been brutally enforcing the rules.
Quarantine camps, food shortages. cops seizing people's homes, tags on Covid patients, and drones policing the streets have all been seen across China.
And yet the caseload in China is claimed to have been comparatively low throughout the entirety of the pandemic.
The most they ever suffered was on February 12, 2020, with 14,108 new cases – and the most they faced this year was 5,659 on April 29.
Britain meanwhile recorded an all-time daily case figure of 275,647 on January 5, 2022 – which is higher than what China claims is its all-time case figure over the last 1,031 days of 258,398.
And yet the UK has not felt the need to impose any full-scale restrictions since the middle of 2021.
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China's draconian response to the virus has raised the spectre of a return to the potential for rising cases around the world as we head into the winter months.
But the West has rolled out much more effective vaccination programs, making countries such as Britain better equipped to deal with any spikes in infections.
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