For everyone who hoped that Omicron spells the end of the pandemic, the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 might be lengthening it for the foreseeable future.
And yes, we’ve moved on from variants to talking about sub-variants now. Here’s everything we know about BA.2 so far.
Labelled As The “Stealth Omicron”
Even though this sub-variant doesn’t have enough differences to be labelled its own Greek letter, it has about 20 mutations that set it apart from Omicron.
Most importantly, it does not have a mutation that allows it to show up on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests as an S-gene target failure. This was the feature that allowed us to easily differentiate between Omicron and other variants.
The lack of that specific mutation means that labs need to further sequence the virus to find this variant. The more extensive genetic sequencing needed to identify the BA.2 subvariant is the reason why this is known as “stealth Omicron”.
Spreading Faster Than Omicron Across The World
BA.2 has been estimated to be around 30% more transmissible than Omicron, according to the World Health Organisation. It has been detected in at least 74 countries so far.
BA.2 is now the dominant strain in at least 10 countries, including Bangladesh, Brunie, China, Denmark, Guam, India, Montenegro, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Additionally, a recent Danish study found that BA.2 was better at infected vaccinated people than the original Omicron variant. This could signal that this sub-variant has greater “immune-evasive properties”.
But please continue to get vaccinated and boosted, as researchers found that vaccinated people were still less likely to get infected or transmit the variants, compared to unvaccinated people.
As many countries have already hit their peak for infections, BA.2 likely won’t cause another peak. But it could slow down the decline in cases, and prolong the pandemic.
This new sub-variant, coupled with how many countries are relaxing pandemic restrictions… Let’s just say COVID-19 won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Possibly More Severe Than Omicron
New experiments from Japanese labs have shown that BA.2 may have features that make it more capable of causing severe illness, like how Delta did.
Furthermore, in an experiment where researchers infected hamsters with Omicron and BA.2, those with BA.2 experienced more severe illness and worse lung infection.
However, there is mixed real-world evidence on the severity of BA.2. In countries like South Africa or the UK where BA.2 is dominant, hospitalisations are still declining.
Meanwhile, in countries like Denmark where BA.2 is the dominant strain, hospitalisations and deaths are rising.
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BA.2 May Not End Up Causing More Serious Waves of Infections
Research has shown that antibodies in the blood of people who were recently infected with Omicron seemed to have some protection against BA.2. The protection was even more if they have been vaccinated.
So even though the virus is mutating, the would-be hosts, AKA our bodies, are also developing stronger immune systems. This might mitigate the more serious nature of BA.2.
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