Story at a glance
- An omicron subvariant called BA.2 has been identified in nearly 50 countries, with about 10,800 identified cases globally.
- Researchers are monitoring BA.2, but not much is known about the new variant at this time.
- So far, the World Health Organization is asking countries to investigate BA.2 cases to understand its immune escape and virulence.
As the omicron variant takes ahold of countries around the world, scientists are monitoring a new subvariant that’s been identified in multiple countries, including the U.S.
Omicron subvariant BA.2 has been found in nearly 50 countries so far, according to Outbreak.info, a global COVID-19 dashboard supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Data on Outbreak indicates there have been more than 10,800 COVID-19 infections identified as BA.2 cases. In the U.S. there have been 54 identified cases of BA.2 infections, which accounts for less than 1 percent of all cases.
Right now, it’s not clear where the new omicron subvariant originated from or if it results in severe illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) noted that BA.2 is a descendent of BA.1 (omicron) but differs in some of its mutations, including in the spike protein. WHO also said it’s increasing in prevalence in many countries and investigations into the characteristics of BA.2, including what its immune escape properties are like and virulence, “should be prioritized independently.”
About 400 cases of BA.2 were identified in the U.K. earlier this week, and the government there is classifying the omicron subvariant as a “variant under investigation.”
“Variants have come, variants have gone,” said Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University School of Medicine, to The Washington Post.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to think this one is a whole lot worse than the current version of omicron,” Garry said.
There have been plenty of variants identified throughout the coronavirus pandemic that have not escalated and stayed within WHO’s category of variants of interest, like the lambda and mu variants.
Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the CDC, also told the Post that “currently, there are insufficient data to determine whether the BA.2 lineage is more transmissible or has a fitness advantage over the BA.1 lineage. CDC continues to monitor variants that are circulating both domestically and internationally.”
This week WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned the public that the coronavirus pandemic had not yet reached its endgame and that the world should proceed with caution as new variants could continue to develop.
“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out, and how the acute phase could end – but it is dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant, or that we are in the endgame.”
The CDC emphasizes the best way to prevent new variants from emerging is to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
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