WHO says new omicron BA.2 subvariant will increase globally

RT: Maria Van Kerkhove, Head ai Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis at the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a press conference on the coronavirus situation at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, January 29 2020.

Denis Balibouse | Reuters

The World Health Organization expects a more transmissible version of omicron to increase in circulation around the world, although it is not yet clear whether the subvariant can re-infect people who have caught a earlier version of the omicron strain.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said on Tuesday the world health agency was tracking four different versions of omicron. Van Kerkhove said the BA.2 subvariant, which is more contagious than the currently dominant BA.1 version, will likely become more common.

“BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1, so we expect to see BA.2 increase in detection globally,” Van Kerkhove said during a live-streamed Q&A session. WHO social media on Tuesday.

The WHO is monitoring BA.2 to see if the subvariant causes an increase in new infections in countries that have seen a rapid rise and then a steep decline in omicron cases, Van Kerkhove said.

Van Kerkhove stressed that there is no indication of a difference in the severity of infections caused by either subvariant, although she noted that research is ongoing. Omicron generally doesn’t make people as sick as the alpha and delta variants, although it spreads faster.

Researchers in Denmark have found that BA.2 is about 1.5 times more transmissible than BA.1 and is more apt to infect vaccinated and even boosted people. However, fully vaccinated people are less likely to spread it than unvaccinated people.

Van Kerkhove said vaccines remain highly effective in preventing serious illness and death, although they do not prevent all infections. She called on people to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors.

Dr Abdi Mahamud, the WHO’s Covid incident manager, said it was unclear whether BA.2 could re-infect people who previously had BA.1.

This could have a significant impact on the ability of the virus to spread. A study in the UK found that two-thirds of people who caught omicron said they had already had Covid.

Most US states have confirmed the presence of BA.2, although it is circulating at a low level with 460 total cases confirmed so far, according to an international database that tracks Covid variants.

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