New Omicron Variant BA 2.2 On The Watch

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There are worrying signs on the horizon, as countries in Europe and Asia are now grappling with the rise of a new sub-lineage of BA 2 Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has been unofficially christened as BA 2.2.

After enduring the Omicron driven Covid wave in the months of December and January, largely triggered by BA 1, which was the first Omicron variant, many countries including Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and a few others in Europe including Scotland and Germany, are now experiencing a fresh surge of Covid cases, largely due to the new sub-lineage BA 2.2 and even BA 2 in some pockets.

Based on the interpretations of public health researchers and experts involved in tracking new Covid variants worldwide, so far the BA 2.2 has displayed a growth advantage over all other variants of the coronavirus. The new sub-lineage of BA2 appears to have started to dominate in England, where cases and hospitalizations have started to rise. The BA 2.2 is literally causing mayhem in Hong Kong where in the past few days public health officials have reported a major surge in Covid infections and deaths.

The BA 2.2 variant has also reached India, with the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), which conducts genome sequencing of the coronavirus, reporting three cases in Maharashtra, Puducherry, and Ladakh.

It is a known fact that the first variant of Omicron (BA1) was the dominant strain in the United States and European countries while in India, the second variant BA 2 was dominant. In fact, there are clear indications that after the initial surge of BA1, it has been now replaced by the BA 2 variant in India. Based on genome sequencing data of INSACOG and GSAID, which is the global initiative to track new variants of influenza variants, as of March 6 there were nearly 19, 000 BA 2 cases in India and over 500 in Telangana, a clear sign that BA 2 has replaced BA 1.

Experts tracking BA 2.2 cases in Hong Kong have indicated that the surge is among the elderly population who were not vaccinated properly when compared to other countries. The rise of the new sub-lineage BA 2.2 in the UK is because the BA1 might not have provided the required strong immunity to the local population, experts believe.

Public health officials and researchers including developers of the SUTRA mathematical model of forecasting pandemics, developed by researchers from IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Hyderabad, however, have so far maintained that due to successive Covid waves, the natural immunity among Indians is close to 95 percent, which should be enough to dilute the impact of new sub-lineages of Omicron.