A newly discovered subvariant of the highly contagious strain of the Omicron coronavirus has now been detected in 57 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In its weekly epidemiological update, the United Nations health agency noted on Tuesday that in some countries the subvariant now accounts for more than half of all sequenced Omicron cases.
The BA.1 sub-variant that has been dominant for a few weeks and this sub-variant called BA.2 which belongs to the same lineage but has about thirty more mutations than the “original” omicron, including almost ten on the Spike protein which allows entry of the virus into the human cell and which is also the target of vaccines
According to a Danish study published Monday January 31, the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron is more contagious up to 30% compared to BA.1. She also notes people who have not been vaccinated are more at risk of contracting it.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s epidemiologist and technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic, told reporters that initial data indicated BA.2 had “a slight increase in the growth rate compared to BA.1”, the first version of the Omicron variant.
Van Kerkhove said there was “no indication that there is a change in gravity” in the BA.2 subvariant.
The highly transmissible Omicron is generally known to cause less severe disease than previous variants such as Delta.
The WHO said Omicron, which accounts for more than 93% of all coronavirus samples collected over the past month, has several sublines: BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2 and BA.3.
Early versions identified as BA.1 and BA.1.1 still account for more than 96% of all Omicron cases submitted to GISAID, he added, referring to the public virus tracking database.