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The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that Omicron submarines BA.4 and BA.5 had been detected in more than a dozen countries, fueling scattered covid outbreaks around the world, but that heavily modified strains were still performing at low levels, the WHO said on Wednesday.
Less than 700 cases of BA.4 have been detected in at least 16 countries and more than 300 cases of BA.5 have been detected in at least 17 countries, Maria Van Kerkhov, WHO’s technical leader on Covid, said during a question and answer session on social media.
Although the two sublinease does not make people sicker than the actual Omicron strain, they appear to be more contagious, says Van Kerkhov. He noted that the WHO would monitor BA.4 and BA.5 to determine if it would eventually surpass BA.2 as a worldwide influential strain.
“We don’t know how this variant will behave, how these subverbets will behave in other countries where there were dominant waves of BA.2,” Van Kerhkov said. “That’s all there is to it.”
According to Kerhkov, two subvarients, BA.4 and BA.5, have high detection rates, especially in South Africa.
As of May 6, there were 395 cases of BA.4 and 134 cases of BA.5 in South Africa, the highest number in all countries, according to a report released by the UK’s Health Security Agency last week. Countries are not sequencing genetic data for each covid case so the actual transmission is more likely.
Only 36 cases of BA.4 were reported in Austria, 24 in the United Kingdom, 20 in the United States and 17 in Denmark, the report said. Belgium, Israel, Germany, Italy, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Switzerland and Botswana all reported below BA.4, the report said.
About 57 cases of BA.5 were detected in Portugal, 52 in Germany and 17 in the United Kingdom, the report said. Infections below 10 BA.5 have been reported in the United States, Denmark, France, Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Israel, Norway, Pakistan, Spain and Switzerland, the report said.
The report states that the number of sequences is low, but “the apparent geographical spread indicates that the variant is being successfully transmitted.”
According to Van Kerkhov, another Omicron subvariant called BA.2.12.1 has been detected in 23 countries.
He said the submarine has more than 9,000 reported sequences, most of which came from the US.
According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 42.6% of new cases of BA.2.12.1 occurred in the United States during the week ending May 8. BA.2 was still the dominant subverter in the country, making up 56.4% of all new sequences that week.
But BA.2.12.1 was dominant in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, making up 66.3% of all newly sequenced cases in those states and territories, CDC data says.
Van Kerkhov said he expects to see an increase in case detection of BA.2.12.1 worldwide due to a higher growth rate than BA.2. But BA.2.12.1 showed no difference in hospital admissions rates compared to BA.2, according to Van Kerkhov.
Emphasizing the need to maintain covid testing and sequencing, he called on governments around the world to closely monitor BA.2.12.1, BA.4, BA.5 and other subvarients that may emerge in the future.
“We always talk to the government about the need to maintain surveillance so that we can track it, we can trace it and we can evaluate it in real time,” said Van Kerkhov.