Australia found a new strain of the omicron variant in a traveler who arrived from South Africa this Wednesday (8). This new strain has about half the genetic variations of the original omicron and cannot be detected with typical tests, according to the Australian Department of Health.
The new strain has enough data “to be able to classify it as an omicron, but we don’t know enough about what that means in terms of the clinical severity and effectiveness of the vaccine,” said Peter Aitken, interim head of health. “Now we have the omicron variant and a similar strain to omicron,” he added.
The new strain has about half the mutations in the genome of the original omicron variant and lacks a feature in the S gene that makes it more difficult to track using PCR tests. The discovery “will lead to progress in people recognizing the potential of the omicron to spread across communities,” added Aitken.
The discovery could mean a setback for scientists rushing to understand the impact of the omicron variant, including whether or not it is more contagious and how it behaves with the vaccines already available.