New ‘stealth’ sub-variant of the Omicron strain has been found in a ‘very low number’ of cases across the country.
Australian health authorities have announced that the “stealth” Covid-19 viral strain, dubbed the “Son of Omicron” in the media, has been detected in a number of states and territories. This BA.2 sub-variant – thought to be more infectious than the original Omicron – has already been seen in more than 40 countries.
In a statement announcing the “early detection” of the sub-variant on Friday, a Federal Health Department spokeswoman had confirmed that a “very low number” of cases had been found among respiratory samples submitted for testing. She added that it will “continue to be closely monitored.”
The variant’s emergence comes amid a spike in Covid-related deaths in the country, with nearly 200 people dying between Friday and Saturday. Of the over 3,600 deaths in Australia since the pandemic began, more than 1,000 have come during the past month – with 500 recorded over the last week alone.
On Saturday, health officials in Victoria announced the detection of “literally a handful” of cases as the state recorded 12,250 new infections. The total number of active cases in the state was 79,836, down from 101,605 reported on Friday. Covid response commander Jeroen Weimar told reporters that the “Son of Omicron” was “not a new variant,” but warned that it was “still early days in understanding exactly how that’s moving around.”
Three cases of the sub-variant were detected in New South Wales and one each in Queensland and the Northern Territory, state authorities told the news.com.au portal. An unnamed spokesperson for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) said the region had also seen a “small number of [BA.2] cases,” but Omicron BA.1 was still the prevalent strain circulating in the community.
“They call it the ‘son of Omicron’, but it’s more of a cousin – it’s a variant related to Omicron. It is spreading … We don’t know if it’s going to be a problem yet,” University of Melbourne clinical epidemiologist Nancy Baxter had told the Nine Network on Thursday. She warned that the sub-variant “may extend our waves,” making them “longer to get out of.”
The BA.2 strain has not yet been designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, but the UK’s Health Security Agency has deemed it a variant under investigation. Meanwhile, Danish health authorities have calculated the off-shoot to be 1.5 time more contagious than the original Omicron strain. According to Reuters, it has already become the dominant strain in Denmark.