Authorities flag new COVID variant of concern

Leading authorities have underlined the potential threat of a new COVID variant which appears to be spreading rapidly.

As part of its on-going work to track variants, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) met this week to discuss the latest evidence on Omicron variants BA.1 and BA.2.

The WHO said that, based on available data of transmission, severity, reinfection, diagnostics, therapeutics and impacts of vaccines, the group reinforced that the BA.2 sublineage should continue to be considered a variant of concern and that it should remain classified as Omicron.

The warning comes as the latest Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the United States.

BA.2 has now been detected in more than 30 states, makes up around 3.9% of new infections, and appears to be doubling quickly, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) data tracker.

“If it doubles again to 8 per cent, that means we’re into the exponential growth phase and we may be staring at another wave of COVID-19 coming in the US,” Samuel Scarpino  the manager director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation, told NPR.

“And that’s of course the one we’re really worried about. We’re all on the edge of our seats,” Scarpino said.

BA.2 is considered a “stealthier” version of Omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat harder to detect.

Danish scientists reported this week that preliminary information suggests it may be 1.5 times more contagious than the original variant.

The US is still recording around 100,000 new cases and 2,000 deaths per day from the Omicron surge, according to the CDC’s COVID tracker.

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