THE Public Health Ministry said today (June 22) two new Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, that appear to be even more contagious were found in Thailand a month ago but the proportions and trends are still being studied, Thansettakij newspaper said.
Dr. Supakit Sirilak, the head of Medical Sciences Department, said at the medical science conference “80 Years: Medical Sciences and Networking for Sustainable Development” that even as the Omicron outbreak has now subsided and does not seem to be much of a problem his department continues checking this virus’ genetic code.
While underscoring that he does not want to reach a conclusion too quickly because some issues lead to the public panicking, Dr. Supakit said the new mutants are being studied to see if they spread faster than the previous subvariants because if not they would not be able to overtake them and this would mean they would not multiply rapidly thus not worrying.
Although the department currently has sufficient samples of BA.4 and BA.5 acquired randomly some time is required to study the changes, approximately four to five weeks.
If someone from overseas becomes ill and is admitted to a government or a private hospital, the department does request that a sample be sent with random checks of critically ill patients also being carried out.
According to a NBC10 Boston report published yesterday, recent data shows that the two new subvariants have begun to spread more rapidly in the US, rising from 10% to 24% in New England in the last week alone. Nationally, BA.4 and BA.5 cases account for about 35% of Covid-19 cases, up 5% over the previous week.
BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 still account for the bulk of the cases — 65% nationally and 76% in New England. But doctors have warned that BA.4 and BA.5 could result in another upswing here in the near future.
Covid cases in the UK are rising for the first time in two months, which health officials there said is likely driven by the original Omicron variant BA.1 and the newer subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
Similarly, cases had been dropping in South Africa for over a month before the BA.4 and now BA.5 strains began pushing up cases. The BA.4 subvariant now accounts for about half of new infections there.
Experts say the strains seem to be more transmissible than both the original Omicron variant and an Omicron relative known as BA.2. Scientists are still studying the new mutants, but it doesn’t appear they cause more severe disease than other versions of the virus, the World Health Organisation said in a recent report.
“It definitely appears to be more immune evasive. It appears to be more transmissible,” Boston Medical Centre’s Dr. Sabrina Assoumou said. “We seem to be getting variants that are gonna cause us more trouble, but what is the good news? The good news is that it is still Omicron — BA.4 and BA.5 are Omicron. Vaccines provide protection.”
Representative images of mutating Omicron variant. Top photo: CNBC, Front Page: 123RF and published by Rnz.co.nz