No cause for alarm in new Omicron variants detected in South Africa, Botswana- WHO

The World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, has announced that researchers in Botswana and South Africa have detected new sub-lineages of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 and are carrying out further investigations to fully understand crucial traits such as infectivity and virulence.

The identified sub-lineages variant detected are BA.4 and BA.5.

The WHO said experts are working with scientists and researchers in the two countries to deepen analysis of the sub-lineages, which have so far been identified in four people in Botswana and 23 in South Africa.

The world health body noted that outside Africa, the BA.4 and the BA.5 have been confirmed in Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Currently there is no significant epidemiological difference observed between the new sub-lineages and known sub-lineages of the Omicron variant, which include BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3 sub-lineages.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa gave an assurance that there is no cause for alarm with the emergence of the new sub-variants.

She said, “We are not yet observing a major spike in cases, hospitalisations or deaths. We are working with scientists in Botswana and South Africa to gain complete behavioural knowledge of these sub-lineages and support African countries to enhance genomic surveillance to detect potentially dangerous variants and stay ahead of the virus.”

WHO urged countries to enhance genomic surveillance to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, and report initial cases or clusters of cases linked with a variant of concern to WHO.

“Additionally, countries should undertake field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of variants of concern on COVID-19 epidemiology, such as severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralisation or other relevant characteristics,” it stated.

The global health body also recommended that countries sequence at least five per cent of all positive samples.

“With support from WHO and other partners, Africa has made strides in ramping up sequencing capacity, having sequenced six times as many samples in the first quarter of 2022 compared with the same period in 2021,” it added.

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