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BA.2 Explained | What to Know About the 'Stealth Omicron' Variant

Global COVID cases have gone up by 8 percent in the last week, according to the WHO.

Updated
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3 min read

After China, Germany has now reported record high COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

On Tuesday, 16 March, Germany recorded 262,593 new COVID cases — the highest casecount in 24 hours till date, with a 22.27 percent rise in cases in the last 7 days according to data collected by the WHO.

China, which is currently seeing the worst COVID outbreak in the country since the beginning of the pandemic, this week announced lockdowns in major cities, and has reinstated strict COVID protocol.

In Germany, the number of people needing hospitalisation is also on the rise, although deaths have been low, reported The Guardian.

While in both these countries Omicron continues to be the dominant variant, experts think the Omicron subvariant BA.2, dubbed the 'stealth' variant, more specifically, may have something to do with the renewed spike.
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COVID Cases Across Countries

Apart from China and Germany, other countries – particularly in Western Europe – have also been seeing a sudden rise in COVID cases in the past few weeks.

In the last 7 days, France has seen a 29.18 percent rise in COVID cases. Italy has reported a 36.39 percent spike, and the UK has seen a 40.1 percent spike.

On 16 March, South Korea recorded 400,741 COVID cases – the highest single day tally the country has seen to date.

The BA.2 sub-variant has also fast on its way to becoming the dominant COVID variant in the US.

According to the US CDC, 23.1 percent of the total COVID cases in the US are now the BA.2 sublineage.

In fact, according to the WHO, new COVID cases globally went up by 8 percent this week, compared to the last.

The surge in cases coincides with many countries easing COVID restrictions and dropping the mask mandate in public places, schools, shops and restaurants.

Addressing the spike in COVID cases that many countries are seeing after a short period of lull, the WHO on Tuesday warned countries to be cautious.

"These increase are occurring despite reductions in testing in some countries, which means the cases we're seeing are just the tip of the iceberg."
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Head of WHO as quoted by Reuters

The real numbers are thought to be higher, as many countries have seen a fall in PCR testing rates. With home testing kits catching on, many self-diagnosed cases are likely to go unreported as well.

The Situation in India

At the moment, India seems to be on the road to recovery after the Omicron driven third wave that hit the country in the beginning of the year.

On Wednesday, the number of active cases in the country dipped to 30,799.

Furthermore, according to the MoHFW (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare), 7,17,330 tests were done in the last 24 hours, of which 2879 turned out to be positive.

However, taking note of the quickly changing situation in other countries, health officials have warned against complacency.

BA.2 Variant: What Do We Know?

To bring you up to speed, here are some quick facts about the 'stealth' variant:

  • BA.2 is a subvariant of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529).

  • Although the BA.2 sub variant is closely related to BA.1 (the dominant sublineage of Omicron), it also has major mutations, including some changes in the spike protein.

  • What especially sets it apart from the Original Omicron variant is that it doesn't have the missing target gene that was used to identify the former.

  • This makes it easier for BA.2 to slip through tests and go undetected.

  • It is too soon to say with certainty, but based on early data, and the trajectory of COVID cases in the world at the moment, BA.2 might be inherently more transmissible than BA.1, according to the WHO.

  • The subvariant's place of origin is unknown.

  • BA.2 was classified as a 'variant under investigation' by the UK Health Security Agency (UK HSA) on 22 January, but has since been bumped up to a variant of concern.

"The BA.2 sublineage should continue to be considered a variant of concern and that it should remain classified as Omicron."
The WHO, in a statement last month

(Written with inputs from the Guardian, Reuters, and the WHO.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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