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A new variant of Covid-19, dubbed the “Son of Omicron,” has reached Australia and has been alleged to be spreading like wildfire.
This new strain, the BA.2 subvariant of Covid-19, has already made the rounds in Europe, and in Denmark has made up 45% of all Covid-19 cases. Its key feature appears to be the difficulty of detection, as a diagnosis can only be confirmed through lab analysis, instead of a simple PCR test.
The Omicron “parent” variant, B.1.1.529, was comparatively easy to detect, since it has an S-gene drop out (unlike the Delta variant), so PCR tests are easily able to detect it. The new subvariant does not have that same genetic drop out, making it significantly harder to detect, especially in a reasonable and convenient time frame.
However, despite the increased virulence and contagiousness that seems to be the hallmark of Omicron variants, the new subvariant does not appear to be more lethal than Covid-19’s base rate (which can be as little as 1 percent or can spike to over 18 percent in a given country, depending on average access to quality healthcare), at least not so far.
The BA.2 subvariant got its nickname, “Son of Omicron,” from a University of Melbourne epidemiologist, Professor Nancy Baxter during an interview by host Karl Stefanovic on Thursday’s edition of Today Show on Australia’s Nine network:
“There is a variant they call the ‘son of Omicron.’ It’s more of a cousin, it’s a variant related to Omicron.”
At the time there was doubt as to whether BA.2 had actually touched down in Australia, so Baxter was only able to speculate on the impact it would have on existing Omicron waves:
“It looks like, if people can believe it, it could be more contagious than Omicron. So if it gets here, it may extend our waves and they may take a lot longer to get out of. But we don’t know enough yet, so stay tuned.”
The fear that it could reach Australia appears to have materialized, as the Australian Health Department confirmed the appearance of BA.2 throughout Australian territory in a statement reported by the Daily Mail, while acknowledging that this was only a select sampling, which would imply actual cases could be much higher:
“Most states and territories in Australia have detected a very low number of the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 in respiratory samples submitted for testing.”
The Health Department then gave itself a pat on the back for its handling of the “Son of Omicron” situation and use of genetic sequencing to determine infections:
“The early detection of BA.2 in Australia is a testament to the success of Australia’s genomic sequencing strategy. As with all variants, this will continue to be closely monitored.”
Regardless, there is clearly concern about the spread of BA.2, due to the fact that the higher infection rate it inherited from its “parent” means that it has a greater chance of reaching those with compromised immune system or other complications that could lead to a serious infection or even death, especially when compounded by a more difficult and time-consuming detection process.
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