‘Stealth’ Omicron Variant Under Investigation in the UK

Source: Freepik

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has placed the recently discovered stealth Omicron variant, BA.2, under investigation.

Late last year, scientists reported detection of an Omicron sub-lineage called BA.2. The new variant lacks a gene deletion, making it harder to differentiate it from other strains using routine PCR tests. Thus, earning it the name of ‘stealth’ Omicron. Since its discovery, the new sub-variant has spread to more than 40 countries worldwide. The UK alone has reported more than 400 cases of the ‘stealth’ Omicron variant. Moreover, a large number of cases have also come in from India, Sweden, and Denmark. However, it is unclear where the variant first emerged from.

In a recent press release, the UK Health Security Agency designated the sub-lineage as a ‘variant under investigation’. Although the original Omicron strain (BA.1) continues to be the dominant variant, cases of BA.2 have steadily risen in the UK.

So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate.

Dr Meera Chand, COVID-19 Incident Director at UKHSA

The press release further reported that the sub-variant has shown a greater growth rate than BA.1. However, it is unclear whether it’s more virulent than the original strain. Nor do scientists have information on BA.2’s effect on vaccine efficacy. According to Dr. Meera Chand at UKHSA, the emergence of such variants is expected as viruses undergo mutation. However, the continued UKHSA’s continued genomic surveillance has helped scientists remain ahead of the curve.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to issue a statement regarding BA.2. Many experts believe it is too early to panic. According to virologist Tom Peacock at Imperial College London, both BA.1 and BA.2 likely have similar vaccine efficacy.

For now, vaccinations and masks remain the best defence against emerging variants.  

Source: UK Health Security Agency


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