The new Omicron subvariant, named BA.2, is more transmissible than the original Omicron variant, a new study has found. The subvariant, also dubbed “stealth Omicron”, is more likely to infect vaccinated people, according to scientists.
The study examined 8,500 Danish households between the months of December and January. Those infected with the new Omicron variant were 33% more likely to infect others, Sky News reported.
“We conclude that Omicron BA.2 is inherently substantially more transmissible than BA.1 and that it also possesses immune-evasive properties that further reduce the protective effect of vaccination against infection,” the study’s researchers said.
So, what does this actually mean for us? Here’s what we know so far:
What is the new subvariant?
The BA.2 strain is a sub-lineage of the now dominant original Omicron variant known as BA.1. Last week it was designated a variant under investigation and on Friday, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that as of January 24 there had been 1,072 confirmed cases identified in England.
The new strain is a little tricker to track than the original BA.1 strain.
BA.1 samples contain a particular genetic change that can be picked up by standard PCR testing, allowing testers to flag probable cases sooner. However, the BA.2 strain does not share this feature, which means scientists have to complete lengthier genomic testing to identify cases, as they did with other variants such as the Delta variant.
Analysis of contact tracing in England saw that household transmission was higher with those who were infected by the new subvariant (13.4%) compared with other Omicron cases (10.3%).
Should we be worried?
When speaking about the BA.2 variant Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the Zoe Covid Study app, said: “The ZOE data has also seen more confirmed reinfections in recent weeks with around 7% of new symptomatic cases having previously tested positive, suggesting a natural infection with Delta may not offer much protection.”
Even though the cases may be high, this isn’t a reason to worry. “Taking all these factors into consideration, I expect that cases will continue to stay high until spring. However, the good news is that most vaccinated infections are mild, with symptoms lasting on average for a shorter time overall than Delta and with less severe cases,” Prof Spector added.
“It’s clear that Covid and its new variants will continue to have an impact on our day-to-day lives for some time. It’s crucial that we’re responsible with our new freedoms and help to keep case numbers down and prevent the virus reaching the more vulnerable groups.”