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Omicron’s BA.2 could spread ‘violently’ in Europe: Epidemiologist

Dr Immanuel Hardtmann holds a syringe containing the Moderna vaccine at a makeshift vaccination center inside the Alexander von Humboldt Cruises boat on the first day of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign (Get vaccinated here) #HierWirdGeimpft on September 13, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.

Carsten Koall | Getty Images News | beautiful pictures

LONDON – While war rages in Ukraine, not much attention is being paid to the surge in Covid-19 cases across Europe which could soon begin to filter out to the rest of the world.

The rise in cases across the continent, from Britain and France to Italy and Austria, is being driven by several factors: An increase in most – if not all – Covid restrictions, decline immunity from vaccines and boosters, and the spread of the more transmissible omicron subvariable, BA.2.

Ralf Reintjes, professor of epidemiology at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, told CNBC this week: “We are all hoping and expecting another turning point in early spring.

“But the situation in Europe is a bit difficult right now, and in Germany… [case] the numbers are at a very, very high level, and they are still going up and have been going up for quite some time. “

Germany is seeing an increase in cases and has reported daily new infections ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 a day in the last week.

Reintjes says the combination of “everyone thinks and expects somehow that the pandemic is over” and the relaxation of what he sees as Covid protections gives BA.2 subvariant “a really good opportunity to spread extremely wild in many parts of Europe.”

“It’s very difficult to predict but personally I think this will most likely continue the world tour,” he added. “That’s what viruses in a pandemic usually do.”

“There are also quite a few reports that people who have been infected with omicrons, or the BA.1 variant, will become infected with BA.2 a few weeks later,” he noted, adding that it is more likely the new variant. This will spread and act like “some sort of new wave of a new pandemic like seasonal flu.”

Public health officials and scientists are closely monitoring BA.2, a sub-variant of the omicron variant that is already highly infectious, as it is accounting for a growing number of cases. new diseases in Europe.

To a lesser extent, it also accounts for a growing number of infections in the United States and Asia.

The subvariant is estimated to be 1½ times more infectious than the omicron and is likely to overtake it as the globally dominant variant.

Preliminary data suggest that BA.2 is more likely to cause infection in household contacts when compared with BA.1. Currently, it is not believed that the BA.2 variant causes more severe illness or increases the risk of hospitalization, however further research is needed to confirm this, according to a UK parliamentary report published today. at the beginning of March.

‘stealth’ variant

BA.2 has been described as a “stealth” variant because it has genetic mutations that can make it difficult to distinguish from the older delta variant using PCR testing, from its original omicron variant, BA.1.

The new minor variable is the latest in a long line to appear since epidemic started in China at the end of 2019. The omicron variant – the most contagious to date – has surpassed the delta variant, which itself has replaced the alpha variant – and it’s not even the original strain of the virus. head.

The World Health Organization says it is closely monitoring BA.2, which it says has now been detected in 106 countries, and has also recorded an increase in global cases after a lull recently.

In the latest weekly update published on Tuesday, The WHO said that after a consistent decline since late January, the number of new weekly cases increased for the second consecutive week last week, with a 7% increase from the previous week.

WHO also notes that while omicron has several sublineages, BA.2 has become the dominant variant in the last 30 days, with 85.96% of viral sequences submitted to GISAID, the virus tracking database public withdrawal, which is variant BA.2. .

The WHO notes that weekly data shows that the proportion of BA.2 cases, compared with other sublines, has increased steadily since the end of 2021, with the sub-line becoming the dominant strain by week seven of the year. year 2022.

“This trend is most pronounced in the Southeast Asia Region, followed by the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Africa, Western Pacific and Europe. BA.2 is currently dominant in the Americas Region,” WHO said.

In the UK, the latest available data from the Office for National Statistics, for the week ending 13 March, shows that the BA.2 variant is now the most common variant in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. During the week surveyed, 76.1% of all Covid-19 infections sequenced from the survey were compatible with the BA.2 variant and 23.9% were compatible with the original omicron strain.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that BA.2 cases now account for 34.9% of all cases in the US. with the auxiliary variable accounts for more than half of all reported cases in some northeastern statesbut it did note that the overall number of infections is still falling from the record high seen in January.

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