With the recent discovery of a new Omicron variant, concerns were raised that South Africa could experience another wave in infections. Fortunately, however, scientists believe that the subvariant is “unlikely to be a gamechanger”.
Omicron BA.2 more infectious
Omicron has three subtypes: BA.1, BA.2 AND BA.3.
At the moment, the BA.2 sub-variant is quickly spreading in SA and it possesses up to 27 mutations that are not found in the original version of Omicron BA.1.
According to recent research, the mutations of BA.2 makes this sub-variant between 30-34% more infectious than BA.1. Research also shows that mild cases of BA.1 may not offer great protection against future infections.
No new wave predicted
Richard Lessells, who is an infectious diseases physician at the University of KZN in Durban, ensured South Africans that the subvariant is very unlikely to cause “a huge wave of reinfection”.
In a recent interview, Lessells explained that, even though there could be an increase in infections, it was unlikely that it would cause havoc.
“We might expect that there would be some reinfections because in many cases the immune response to Omicron may not be a particularly strong one,” said Lessells. “But I think it’s very unlikely that it’s going to break through the immunity from BA.1. It’s definitely not a game-changer.”
A professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge university, Ravi Gupta, also agreed with Lessells’ statement. According to Gupta, BA.2’s transmission advantage doesn’t call for public health measures to be more extreme than what governments already have in place for the original Omicron variant.
“BA.2 may be more transmissible by a certain margin but Omicron is already so transmissible – the incremental increase is unlikely to throw us off course,” Gupta said.
South Africa’s excess deaths are dropping
It has been reported that SA’s excess deaths have fallen to levels similar to levels before Omicron was identified.
According to the South African Medical Research Council, the number of excess deaths (a measure of mortality over a historical average) dropped to 886 in the third week of January, compared to 1 329 excess deaths the week earlier.
The drop in mortality also shows that the variant causes milder disease, even though it is more transmissible than other strains.