UK Health Officials Play Down 426 Cases of New Omicron BA.2 Sub-Strain
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus, first identified in November 2021 by doctors and virologists in South Africa, has spread rapidly across the globe — supplanting the pandemic's previously-dominant Delta variant without causing additionally high levels of severe illness and death.
British health authorities have downplayed fears over the arrival of a new mutation of the COVID-19 Omicron variant that is fast becoming dominant in Denmark.
A total of 426 cases of the so-called BA.2 sub-variant were identified in the UK on Friday, as a portion of the almost 96,000 people registered as testing positive that day alone.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that nearly all pandemic restrictions would be lifted on January 26, in light of positive data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showing falling numbers of patients in hospital intensive care beds with the virus.
“As is routine for any new variants under investigation, UKHSA is carrying out laboratory and epidemiological investigations to better understand the characteristics of this variant," the UKHSA said. “We will continue to monitor this situation closely and recommend appropriate public health measures if needed. More detail will be available in UKHSA’s regular variant technical briefings.”
The first British case of Omicron BA.2 was identified on December 6, 2021, in 146 patients in London and 97 cases in the surrounding south eastern regions outside of the capitol city.
To date, the new BA.2 mutant has been detected in 40 countries. While the strain's origin is unknown, it has already accounted for 45 percent of cases in Denmark during the second week of January — up sharply from 20 percent in the last week of December 2021.
The UK and Denmark have the world's highest recorded rates of infection with the more-contagious but less-severe Omicron variant.
An early analysis of cases by Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut (SSI) found rates of hospitalisation with BA.2 were no higher than with the original BA.1 Omicron variant first identified in South Africa and in neighbouring Botswana.
SSI researcher Anders Fomsgaard said he was puzzled but not worried by BA.2's rapid growth.
“It may be that it is more resistant to the immunity in the population, which allows it to infect more. We do not know yet,” he told Danish media.
On whether BA.2 could evade patients' acquired immunity to BA.1 and cause repeat infections, he conceded: “It is a possibility."
“In that case, we must be prepared for it. And then, in fact, we might see two peaks of this epidemic,” Fomsgaard said.
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