According to the World Health Organization, Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are circulating at low levels in numerous countries in Southern Africa and Europe.
According to WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove, two subvariants of the extremely contagious Covid-19 strain have been found in Botswana, South Africa, Germany, and Denmark, among other nations.
So far, BA.4 and BA.5 appear to be no more contagious or lethal than the original omicron mutation, but that could change when more cases are discovered, she said. Van Kerkhove stressed the importance of maintaining “strong” genome monitoring tools that will allow countries to follow and evaluate the two subvariants as well as older omicron versions.
“It is still early days. What we have to make sure is that we continue to have the ability to track, the ability to share and the ability to analyze so that we can answer questions like this,” Van Kerkhove said during a WHO briefing that was live-streamed on the organization’s social media platforms.
Her comments came just days after the WHO announced that it was tracking a small number of instances of BA.4 and BA.5, as well as older omicron varieties including BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, and BA.1.1.
It also comes as the more contagious BA.2 subvariant spreads around the globe, sparking a new wave of Covid infections after the exceptional spike produced by the initial omicron variant, BA.1, last winter. BA.2 is now the most common strain worldwide. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it accounts for approximately 85 per cent of newly sequenced cases in the United States, and it is even more prevalent in the northeast, where it accounts for about 92 per cent of newly sequenced cases.
According to a report released this week by the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency, the first BA.4 sample was obtained in South Africa on Jan. 10, but data reveals that the “accumulation of genomes” and geographic distribution of the subvariant is more recent. As of April 8, there had been 41 BA.4 cases reported in South Africa, three in Denmark, two in Botswana, and one each in England and Scotland.
“Although the number of total genomes is small, the apparent geographic spread suggests that the variant is transmitting successfully,” the U.K. Health Ministry said in a report.
According to the report, as of April 8, there had been 27 reports of BA.5 sequences, all of which were reported in South Africa between February 25 and March 25. According to Reuters, Botswana’s health ministry stated on Monday that it had detected both BA.4 and BA.5 cases among fully vaccinated people aged 30 to 50.
According to Reuters, the WHO started watching BA.4 and BA.5 because they have novel mutations “that need to be further examined to understand their influence on immunological escape potential.”
According to a WHO analysis released Wednesday, both subvariants had extra mutations in the spike area, a section of the virus utilised to enter human cells, as well as distinct changes outside of that region. According to the paper, such mutations are linked to “possible immunological escape characteristics.”
(Adapted from CNBC.com)