New version of Omicron raises more questions


Published: 2022-01-22 19:19

Last Updated: 2022-05-24 06:31

New version of Omicron raises more questions
New version of Omicron raises more questions

Scientists are closely monitoring a new version of the mutant Omicron that was discovered a few weeks ago and looks closer to the original coronavirus. Scientists are seeking to deepen their knowledge of its characteristics and possible repercussions for the outbreak of the epidemic in the future.

The World Health Organization explained Friday in its weekly press conference that the designation Omicron is in fact a "generic term" that can have several submutants. 

Among these Omicron control strains, the BA.1 version is dominant.

However, another version, BA.2, has become dominant in India and Denmark, where the number of infections began to rise a few days ago.

"What surprises us is the speed with which this version of the mutant, which has spread so much in Asia, is concentrated in Denmark," infectious disease expert Antoine Flaholt told AFP.

"The country was waiting to reach the peak number of infections in mid-January, but that did not happen, and this may have been caused by this version of the mutant that appears highly contagious, but is not more virulent" than the original virus, he added.

The health authorities are currently waiting to know more details about it.

"What is important to us is whether (this version of the mutant) has different properties than (BA.1) in terms of infection, immune escape and virulence," the French public health authority said.

So far, BA.2 has been detected in France, "but at very low levels."

In contrast, specifically in Denmark, this version is gradually replacing BA.1, the "classic" version of the Omicron mutant, according to the French Public Health Authority. The Authority added that "the Danish authorities do not have an explanation for this phenomenon, but it is being closely monitored."

For its part, France is closely following the data presented by Denmark.

- 'Similar ferocity' -

Although they are cautious, the scientists are not concerned.

Antoine Flaholt says it's still too early to worry, but "vigilance" is essential.

"We currently have the impression that the virulence (of the new version) is similar to (that of) Omicron, but many questions remain," added the director of the Institute for Comprehensive Health at the University of Geneva.

He called for "developing screening techniques for good monitoring" of BP.2 infections and "quickly discovering what their characteristics are."

"Premature observations in India and Denmark indicate that there is no significant difference in risk compared to BA.1," tweeted Tom Peacock, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London.

He believed that the discovered mutant should not raise questions about the efficacy of vaccines.

"Even with a slightly higher infection rate" than the original omicron, he said, he would never expect a change equivalent to that which occurred when this mutant replaced Delta.

"Personally, I do not think that BA2 will have a significant impact on the current epidemic wave," he stated.

On Thursday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that BA.2 "does not change the data" at the present time, but he remained careful not to give a final ruling in this regard.

"There are mutants on a regular basis," French Prime Minister Jean Castix told a press conference, adding that "as far as we know" BA.2 matches "to some extent the characteristics we know about Omicron."