The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned that the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron, regarded as a “stealth” coronavirus variant, appears to have a substantial growth advantage over the currently predominant BA.1 strain. On Friday, the UKHSA said that there was an increased growth rate of BA.2 compared with BA.1 in all regions of England where there were enough cases to compare them.
Looking at the data, they warned that “the apparent growth advantage is currently substantial”.
This could mean that the BA.2 sub-variant may soon become the dominant strain in the UK, and the rest of the world.
The omicron variant has torn around the globe with great ferocity since its emergence, accounting for 90 percent of new cases in the UK.
Now its new subvariant dubbed the “Stealth Omicron”, has brought fresh concerns that larger waves of COVID-19 may strike in the future
Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor for the UKHSA said: “We now know that BA.2 has an increased growth rate which can be seen in all regions in England.”
The agency confirmed that so far there is no data on the severity of BA.2 compared to BA.1 while reiterating that their preliminary assessment did not find a difference in the effectiveness of vaccines against symptomatic disease between the two Omicron lineages.
While Omicron pushed cases in the UK to record highs, hospitalisations did not rise to the same extent, owing to population immunity through vaccination and previous infection, along with Omicron’s lower severity compared to its predecessors.
UKSHA stated that according to a separate analysis of hospitalised patients between Nov 24 and Jan 19, a majority of those admitted to intensive care units were diagnosed with the Delta variant of Covid-19, despite Omicron becoming the dominant strain.
Fortunately, the study also found that a rise in cases of Omicron in care homes had not been associated with an increase in hospital admissions.
The UKHSA said: “Our findings suggest the current wave of Omicron infections is unlikely to lead to a major surge in severe disease in care home populations with high levels of vaccine coverage and/or natural immunity.”
The agency, however, noted that its findings were based on BA.1 due to having limited numbers of BA.2 cases in the study.
Meanwhile, scientists have stated that there’s no cause to panic over the new BA.2 variant as it shows high rate of spreading, but low rates of hospitalisation so far.
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Ramon Lorenzo-Redondo, assistant professor of medicine for infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago said: “Among all the lineages of Omicron, this is the one showing a higher increase of cases.
“But we have to be careful in interpreting that, because higher increases from a very low number are easier to observe,”
The UK Health Security Agency has marked BA.2 a “variant under investigation” after early data suggested it may be more transmissible and better to evade vaccines than previous strains.
However, unlike Omicron, this sub-lineage doesn’t leave a certain signature on lab tests called an s-gene target failure.
This means that the strain can look like other SARS-CoV-2 variants on the first screen, leading to some calling the BA.2 mutation as the “the stealth variant.”
This is a breaking story. More to follow.