WHO says Omicron subvariant does not appear more severe

As the BA.2 subvariant has started to replace the "original" BA.1 variant of Omicron in countries such as Demark, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said there is no evidence so far of any difference in severity between the two.

New subvariant does not appear to be more severe than original Omicron

"Based on data from Denmark, the first country where BA.2 overtook BA.1, there appears to be no difference in disease severity, although BA.2 has the potential to replace BA.1 globally, said Boris Pavlin of the WHO’s Covid-19 Response Team, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

“Looking at other countries where BA.2 is now overtaking, we’re not seeing any higher bumps in hospitalization than expected,” he said.

BA.2 is more transmissible than the more common BA.1 and more able to infect vaccinated people, according to a Danish study which analysed coronavirus infections in more than 8,500 Danish households between December and January (see link below).

The subvariant is already becoming dominant in the Philippines, Nepal, Qatar, India and Denmark, Pavlin said.

Vaccination is profoundly protective against severe disease, including for Omicron. BA.2 is rapidly replacing BA.1. Its impact is unlikely to be substantial, although more data are needed,

added Pavlin.

There are more disconcerting news about Omicron's BA.2 subvariant, though.

An increasing number of studies suggest that BA.2 of the already highly-infectious Omicron variant of coronavirus (B.1.1.529) is transmitting even faster than the original. What is even more unsettling is that mild cases of BA.2 may offer only feeble protection against future infections (click on link below for more).

The number of Hungarians in hospital with SARS-CoV-2 infection rose by 35% from last Monday, according to the Tuesday morning report by koronavirus.gov.hu, which also shows a 11% day-on-day increase in the number of Covid patients on ventilator.

Premature to declare victory over COVID-19

The head of the World Health Organization has warned that it is too early for countries to either declare victory over Covid-19 or give up attempts to halt transmission, AFP reports.

Speaking to reporters, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:

It is premature for any country to either surrender or to declare victory. This virus is dangerous, and it continues to evolve before our very eyes.

And while the new Covid variant is known to be milder, he stressed that “we are now starting to see a very worrying increase in deaths in most regions of the world”.

It is vital, he said, to keep striving to halt transmission of the virus.

“We are not calling for any country to return to so-called lockdown,” Tedros said, adding though that

we are calling on all countries to protect their people using every tool in the toolkit, not vaccines alone.

“This virus will continue to evolve, which is why we call on countries to continue testing, surveillance and sequencing,” he said. “We can’t fight this virus if we don’t know what it’s doing.”

According to Reuters, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid, told the briefing:

We are urging caution because many countries have not gone through the peak of Omicron yet. Many countries have low levels of vaccination coverage with very vulnerable individuals within their populations.

"And so now is not the time to lift everything all at once."

Cover photo: Getty Images

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