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Coronavirus: China reports first case of coinfection by two Omicron subvariants

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 18/03/2023 Sylvie Zhuang
  • Disease control authorities say a woman in Chongqing tested positive for a virus that had features of two Omicron strains
  • She may have been exposed to the different variants through contact with patients during her two hospital stays

China has reported its first case of a patient infected with two Omicron subvariants of the coronavirus at the same time.

In a paper released on Friday, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the patient was a 67-year-old woman living in Yunyang county, Chongqing.

The woman tested positive in two samples for a virus that contained features of subvariants BA.5.2.48 and BF.7.14, according to the paper on China CDC Weekly.

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BA.5.2.48 is responsible for more than 90 per cent of cases in Chongqing while BF.7.14 accounts for around 3.8 per cent.

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The patient first tested positive for Covid-19 on December 29, as the country was in the grip of infections in the aftermath of its sudden abandonment of the zero-Covid policy.

She was admitted to a county traditional Chinese medicine hospital on January 4 and discharged the following day.

She continued to feel unwell and was admitted on January 6 to the Third Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University, a larger hospital with a specialist infectious disease department.

She continued testing positive until February 12.

The coinfection was detected in upper respiratory tract samples collected from her on January 28 and February 7.

The China CDC said in the paper that analysis revealed that the virus detected in both samples formed an independent branch, different from the BA.5.2.48 and BF.7.14 Omicron subvariants, indicating the patient was simultaneously infected with both subvariants.

The woman may have been exposed to the different variants through contact with patients during her two hospital stays, according to the paper.

It said the patient had received two shots of a Sinovac vaccine before falling ill and may have had a weakened immune system.

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Since the start of the pandemic, there have been reports around the world of people infected with combinations of Omicron, Delta, and influenza at the same time.

The China CDC said identifying and monitoring cases of coinfection was meaningful for populations with poor immune systems because they were especially vulnerable to the virus and its mutations.

In October last year, researchers in France said in a paper in Nature that proper detection of coinfection was crucial to understanding the clinical impact and risk of potential recombinants.

But on Thursday, researchers in India said in a peer-reviewed article published in the medical journal Cureus that coinfections had no or minimal role in augmenting the second wave of Covid-19 in India.

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The report of the Chinese case came as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it was hopeful that the pandemic phase of the virus was coming to a close.

It also came a week after the third anniversary of the WHO's declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout that time, concerns about new coronavirus variants prompted some countries to impose travel restrictions on visitors, particularly where novel strains were detected.

Those fears also spurred various countries - including Japan and South Korea - to impose restrictions on visitors from China soon after it lifted its zero-Covid restrictions and opened up to international travel. South Korea and Japan have lifted the restrictions.

However, no new variants emerged after reopening in the initial weeks of China's first Covid-19 wave, former China CDC chief George Gao Fu and a colleague said in research published in the Lancet in early February

The wave was mainly caused by the BA.5.2 and BF.7 subvariants, which were already circulating in other parts of the world, they said.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (, the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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