Photo: CHROMORANGE/picture alliance/ DW Publicity
It is already known that the first omicron variant, BA.1, is significantly more contagious than previous strains of the coronavirus. Now comes the subtype BA.2. At least 400 individuals were infected with it in the UK in the first ten days of January, and it has now been detected in over 40 countries worldwide.
The Pango coronavirus directory lists Denmark as the most affected area, with 79% of cases detected so far. Only then follow the United Kingdom (6%), India (5%), Sweden (2%) and Singapore (2%). However, it is noted that the detection of the subtype depends on the ability of each health system to sequence PCR tests.
Doubts about the danger of the Omicron BA.2
THE rapid spread of the new subtype suggests that it may be even more contagious than the first omicron variant. The UK health authority UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has classified BA.2 as a “variant under observation”.
“It is in the nature of viruses to multiply and mutate. in doing so,” says Meera Chand, director at UKHSA. “In that sense, it can be expected that we will continue to see new variants as long as the pandemic continues.”
She adds that since health officials are always randomly scanning the genome of viruses, it is possible to quickly identify them and assess whether the mutations are dangerous.
For the BA.2 subtype, however, this analysis is ongoing.
“There is still not enough evidence to say that BA.2 causes more severe disease progression than BA.1,” says Chand.
Vaccination remains important
British Health Minister Sajid Javid adds that the emergence of the new variant shows how vaccination is still important.
“I encourage [todos] to protect themselves and those closest to them and take a booster dose now.”
French epidemiologist Antoine Flahault told the French news agency AFP:
“What surprised us is the speed with which this subvariant, which circulates widely in Asia, has spread in Denmark“.
However, infections with the BA.2 subtype so far have not been more severe than those with the BA.1 subtype. French Health Minister Olivier Véran also told the AFP news agency that he is calm about the new variant:
“What we know at the moment is that BA.2 corresponds more or less to the known properties of the omicron.”
Delta and Omicron recombination?
German virologist Christian Drosten, from the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, told radio station Deutschlandfunk that the combination of one of the two variants of the omicron with the delta could also give rise to a more dangerous virus.
The omicron has certain mutations in the surface protein, the spike, with which it can more easily bypass the human immune system.
He warns that this property could become particularly dangerous through a recombination that “has the spike protein of the omicron virus, to continue to enjoy that immunological advantage, but has the rest of the delta virus genome.” That way, the strongest features of both variants could come together. “Something like this already exists, it has already been described, at the moment we can fear that it will happen again.”
Recently, a researcher in Cyprus reported on a new variant of the coronavirus that could be a recombination of both variants. However, the discovery of “deltacron” could also have been a measurement error.