The BA.2 variant is currently considered a variant under investigation (VUI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), following the discovery that it has similar properties to the original Omicron strain of COVID.
It’s not yet known what the impact of the new variant will be, but experts have shared their concern about how it could prolong the current wave.
Dr Meera Chand, Director of COVID Incidents at UKHSA, said: “It is in the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it is to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge over the years. as the pandemic continues.
“Our ongoing genomic monitoring allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant.
“So far there is not enough evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe disease than Omicron BA.1, but the data is limited and the UKHSA is continuing to investigate.”
François Balloux, professor of computational biology at University College London, added that BA.2 was “about 20 mutations” outside the original BA.1 Omicron strain.
He said: “Interestingly, the two Omicron sublineages are sister clades that split several months ago and are not derived from each other.
“At this point, BA.1 and BA.2 can be considered two epidemiologically broadly equivalent sublines of omicron.”
Meanwhile, Professor Oliver Johnson, director of the University of Bristol’s Institute for Statistical Sciences, said the new variant may not be something to worry about, but it could just mean that COVID stays longer than previously thought.
He said on Twitter: “It can mean that things are painful between 1,000 and 2,000 [hospital] the admissions window longer than we would like, so we can’t start making inroads into the waitlists. Like I said, probably one to watch rather than panic at this time, but still potentially annoying.”