Scientists worried about new Omicron sub-variant spreading across the globe



Health scientists are starting to voice their concern about a new Covid sub-variant, which was first detected in India and has rapidly spread to other parts of the world.

The Omicron variant, referred to as Centaurus or BA.2.75, first emerged in India in May.

It has since spread to around 10 countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, The Netherlands and Australia.

Centaurus

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the sub-variant seems to have mutations on the receptor binding domain of the spike protein.

“That’s a key part of the virus that attached itself to the human receptor, so we have to watch that,” said Swaminathan.

She, however, stressed that it’s too early to panic about the new wave of infections.

“It’s still too early to know if this sub-variant has properties of additional immune evasion or of being more clinically severe.”

She said the WHO is tracking the sub-variant from around the world. Once it has enough data, the WHO will decide whether Centaurus is a variant of concern.

There are other health scientists that are concerned about the increased transmissibility of the new variant.

Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told AFP that the spread of Centaurus in India indicated it could be more transmissible than the BA.5 Omicron sub-variant, which has been driving waves in Europe and the US.

“It seems to be becoming the dominant strain in India. The question is will it become the dominant strain all over the world?”

New Covid regulations

The emergence of the Centaurus sub-variant comes as countries around the world, including South Africa, have drastically relaxed their Covid restrictions.

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Lockdowns were reintroduced to certain parts of China after fresh Covid outbreaks around the country.

China on Saturday reported its highest number of coronavirus cases since May, with the Omicron variant being dominant.

Resurgence in South Africa

Prof Shabir Madhi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, warned South Africa about the emergence of the Centaurus sub-variant, despite no cases having been identified in the country yet.

“It might lead to resurgence, even in a country such as South Africa, although we haven’t identified a case yet of this sub-variant virus, but again it is unlikely that we are going to experience a mass number of hospitalisations and deaths now that 90% of people in South Africa got some type of immunity against a virus either from vaccines or infection,” Madhi told Radio 702.

“In South Africa for an example, if you are above the age of 15 and got other underlying medical conditions, you will be well advised to get an additional dose of vaccine now before the sub-variant appears in South Africa.”

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