Everything we know about new 'stealth Omicron' strain
Omicron's got a little sister - and she's sneakier
There's a new covid-19 variant in town which has been nicknamed "stealth Omicron". Here's everything we know about it so far...
The UK Health Security Agency has dubbed BA.2 a "variant under investigation" after early research indicates it could be more transmissible than regular Omicron and also capable of evading vaccines.
How many cases are there?
The World Health Organisation believes "Stealth Omicron" is developing faster than previous strains. Around 8,000 cases have been identified in more than 40 countries, including the US, India, Germany and Australia, according to reports from the Independent.
A further 426 cases have been recorded on our very own home turf since the variant's discovery in December 2021. It is also believed that there are actually considerably more cases than first thought, as only a small number of infections are checked for variations.
What do we know about the strain?
While the variant indeed spreads faster, it's also harder to track by all accounts. Due to a deletion in the spike gene in Omicron, PCR tests are able to trace the strain without the need for extra genome sequencing. However "Stealth Omicron" does not have this feature, which in turn makes it harder to monitor.
While PCR tests will easily determine if someone has Omicron, further tests would be needed to differentiate between the parent variant and this new, stealthier version.
Will there be another wave?
Despite its stealth capabilities being initially concerning, scientists are not worried about the possibility of another wave.
"Even with slightly higher transmissibility this absolutely is not a Delta to Omicron change, and instead is likely to be slower and more subtle," said Dr Tom Peacock, one of the first virologists to identify Omicron. "That said, I would not be surprised if BA.2 slowly replaces [Omicron] over the coming months with a slightly more "optimised" mutations."
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Dr Peacock said that observations from India and Denmark suggest there is "no dramatic difference in severity."
"So far there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate," said Dr Meera Chand, the UKHSA's Covid incident director.
More information is expected to follow as scientists continue to analyse the variant.
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