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Explained: Why Omicron BA.5, spreading wildly across the world, is the 'worst variant'

Firstpost logo Firstpost 14-07-2022 FP Explainers
Explained: Why Omicron BA.5, spreading wildly across the world, is the 'worst variant' © Provided by Firstpost Explained: Why Omicron BA.5, spreading wildly across the world, is the 'worst variant'

After braving two-and-a-half-years the COVID-19 pandemic and several variants of the deadly virus, the most infectious and transmissible variants so far has just arrived.

According to a report by news agency Reuters, the newest variant of Omicron, BA.5, was behind 52 per cent of cases sequenced in late June, up from 37 per cent in one week. In the United States, it is estimated to be causing around 65 per cent of infections.

What is the BA.5 variant of Omicron?

BA.4 and BA.5 are variants of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant circulating globally.

These were first reported from South Africa earlier this year and are now being reported from several other countries. First identified in January, it has been tracked by the WHO since April

The INSACOG had said these sub-variants have not been associated with disease severity or increased hospitalisation.

The sub-variant, however, has been causing spikes in case rates, even with reduced testing, in countries including South Africa, where it was first found, as well as the United Kingdom, parts of Europe, and Australia.

Also read: COVID-19 cases on the rise in 110 countries driven by fast-spreading Omicron sub-variants, says WHO

Where is it spreading?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the BA.5 variant of Omicron is estimated to make up 65 per cent of the coronavirus cases in the United States as of last week.

The BA.5 and BA.4 variants together accounted for more than 80 per cent of circulating variants last week, while the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospital admissions has doubled since early May.

According to a report by CNN, China has again mandated COVID tests as case numbers started growing after the emergence of the highly infectious BA.5 variant of Omicron.

Shanghai authorities have ordered the majority of the city's 16 districts to undergo two rounds of testing from Tuesday to Thursday, after a case of the new BA.5.2.1 subvariant was detected in the community on 8 July. Over the past 10 days, the city has reported more than 400 cases.

New Omicron subvariants have been reported in several Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing, the northeastern port city of Dalian, and the central city of Xi'an, which was shut down for seven days over the outbreak, CNN reported.

The number of Covid cases reported to the WHO increased 30 per cent in the past two weeks, driven by sub-variants of the Omicron strain and the lifting of control measures.

How bad can it be?

Experts are calling BA.5 the “worst version of the virus” because of its ability to easily evade immunity from previous infections and vaccines while increasing the risk of reinfection.

As per a CNN report, Eric Topol, a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said that though the variant does not appear to lead to more severe illness, an escalation in hospitalisations is expected.

"One good thing is it doesn't appear to be accompanied by the ICU admissions and the deaths as previous variants, but this is definitely concerning," he added.

WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said that BA.5 has a growth advantage over the other sublineages of Omicron that are circulating.

However, she stressed that there is also no evidence that BA.5 is more dangerous than any of the other Omicron variants, although spikes in cases can put health services under pressure and risk more people getting long COVID.

With inputs from agencies

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