Saturday, May 14, 2022

Health officials declare two strains of Omicron as “variants of concern.”

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Two strains of Omicron have been identified as “variants of concern” that could dominate this summer, health officials have warned.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that variants BA.4 and BA.5 could lead to a spike in Covid cases across the continent within weeks and months, adding additional Put pressure on hospitals and intensive care units. It added that countries should remain vigilant to spot signs that new variants are emerging.

The warning comes as nations across the continent try to live with minimal restrictions and enjoy the summer holidays across Europe. ECDC also advised that people over 80 should get a second Covid booster shot “immediately”, adding that countries should plan for those over 60 and other vulnerable groups to get a second booster shot.

Both BA.4 and BA.5 were first spotted in South Africa in January and February 2022, respectively, and have since become the dominant variants there, the report warned. The currently observed growth advantage for BA.4 and BA.5 is likely due to their ability to evade the immune protection induced by prior infection or vaccination.

The Portuguese National Health Institute estimated that as of May 8, 2022, BA.5 already accounted for over a third (37 percent) of positive cases in the country. The estimated daily growth advantage for BA.5 over the formerly dominant variant BA. 2 is 13 percent, matching the 12 percent daily growth advantage previously reported by South Africa. Assuming such a growth rate, BA.5 will become the dominant variant in Portugal in less than a week.

However, the report states that there is currently “no evidence of a change in severity from B.A4/BA.5 compared to previous Omicron lines.”

“The presence of these variants could lead to a significant increase in Covid-19 cases in the EU/EEA in the coming weeks and months,” ECDC said.

“The overall share of BA.4 and BA.5 in the EU/EEA is currently small, but the reported high growth benefits suggest that these variants will dominate in the EU/EEA in the coming months.

“However, if Covid-19 case numbers increase significantly, as in previous waves, some level of increased hospitalization and intensive care admissions will likely follow. ECDC encourages countries to remain vigilant for signals of the emergence of BA.4 and BA.5.”

It added: “For all age groups, improving uptake of the basic course and first booster Covid-19 vaccine in populations that have yet to receive it remains a priority.”

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 1.2 million, or one in 45 people, in England carried the virus on any day of the week up to May 7, down a quarter from the previous week.

It is the fifth straight week that the ONS weekly infection survey has reported a week-on-week drop in cases.

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