Amid concerns about the increasing presence of the BA.2 subtype of the Omicron variant in some European and Asian countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized on Wednesday that the BA.2 subtype should be considered a variant of the concern .
The WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), which met on Tuesday, said it should be classified as an omicron.
The group also emphasized that BA.2 should be monitored by public health officials as a specific sub-line of Omron. “The Omicron variant of concern is currently the dominant variant currently circulating globally, accounting for nearly all sequences reported to GISAID (an open access database),” the WHO said in a statement.
Omicron is made up of several sub-lineages, each of which is being monitored by WHO and partners. Among them, the most common are BA.1, BA.1.1 (or NextStrain clade 21K) and BA.2 (or NextStrain clade 21L).
Globally, the proportion of sequences designated BA.2 has been increasing relative to BA.1 in recent weeks, although the global prevalence of all A variants is reportedly declining.
Experts explained that BA.2 differs from BA.1 in its genetic sequence, and that it has an evolutionary advantage over this sub-lineage.
Although studies are underway to understand why, preliminary data suggest that BA.2 appears to be naturally more permeable than BA.1, the most common omicron subline currently reported.
However, this difference in transmissibility appears to be much smaller than that between the BA.1 and delta variants, the experts said.
Meanwhile, although BA.2 sequences are increasing in proportion to other Omicron sub-lineages, there has been a decline in overall cases globally.
In addition, while cases of reinfection with BA.2 have been documented after infection with BA.1, preliminary data from studies suggest that infection with BA.1 is followed by re-infection with BA.2. Provides strong protection against infection.
WHO will continue to closely monitor the BA.2 lineage as part of Omicron. The UN agency urged countries to remain vigilant, monitor and report sequences, and conduct independent and comparative analyzes of different Omicron sub-lineages.
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