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Coronavirus surges – what you need to know

June 20, 2022

As two new fast-spreading subvariants of Omicron cause fresh surges of Covid around the world, we look at what you need to know and ask, ‘should we be concerned?’

Coronavirus surges – what you need to know

Where are cases on the rise?

BA.4 and BA.5 emerged in South Africa in January and February of this year.

They were added to the World Health Organization’s monitoring list in March and have since been designated as variants of concern in Europe.

The first cases in America were recorded in April and the variants currently account for more than 21 per cent of new cases in the U.S., according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most European countries now have them, and they look set to overtake other types of Covid soon. That’s already the case in Portugal, where BA.5 is the dominant strain.

Health experts believe they could become the dominant strains in Europe and the U.S. within the next few months and cases have also been recorded in Australia.

Aren’t variants to be expected?

Absolutely.

Covid has been constantly mutating over the last two years or so and we’ve already experienced several major variants. These include Alpha, Delta and, of course, Omicron, which was responsible for a spike in cases last winter.

What makes these strains different?

BA.4 and BA.5 are closely related to the Omicron variant. Experts believe that, having evolved from it, these strains can bypass immunity from a previous infection or vaccination to become even more contagious.

This, in turn, could lead to waves of reinfection.

However, due to limited data, it remains unknown if BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron are any more lethal than other types of Covid.

Scientists are optimistic based on the reports from South Africa, which had fewer hospitalizations and deaths during its BA.4 and BA.5 waves compared to other mutations.

In addition to this, many of us have improved immunity to Covid because of mass vaccination campaigns and past exposure to the virus.

That said, BA.4 and BA.5 and other new subvariants do appear to be spreading more easily.

Does this mean more vaccines?

Existing vaccines against Covid variants are constantly being updated and tested.

For many, especially those with underlying health conditions, vaccines remain the best line of defence, and boosters will be a fact of life for many of us for some time to come.

Related: Vaccines and the changing face of Covid

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