COVID-19 new variant

The data for 16/05/2022 is favourable for Mzansi – Image via Unsplash

‘Mutation of Omicron’ growing in SA – but there’s no need to worry

A new strain of Omicron is surfacing in South Africa, and it’s likely to outgrow the original mutation. However, our scientists aren’t fazed.

COVID-19 new variant

The data for 16/05/2022 is favourable for Mzansi – Image via Unsplash

With each variant of COVID-19, you also get sub-variants. The best example of this is the ‘Delta-Plus’ strain that followed the previous wave of infections. Now, history is repeating itself with Omicron – but this time, the ‘mutation within a mutation’ is threatening to outgrow the original variant.

Omicron mutation in South Africa: What does it mean?

The BA.2 lineage of Omicron is now outpacing the BA.1 strain, that swept across the globe so rapidly at the back end of 2021. Although not classed as a ‘new variant’, this latest mutation may have a slight transmission advantage over its predecessor. That used to be a cause for concern…

However, two years down the line in our pandemic response, things have changed for the better. High levels of immunity – through both infection and vaccination – have built a collective wall of protection against the very worst affects of the virus. We can all still catch COVID-19, but for a large majority, its impact will be negated.

BA.2 ‘very unlikely’ to cause spike in hospitalisations

That’s why a sub-variant of Omicron isn’t panicking our scientific community one bit. Tulio de Oliveira, one of the leading COVID-19 experts in South Africa, does expect cases to rise as a result of BA.2 spreading in Mzansi. But case numbers on their own actually count for very little in this day and age…

“Increasing prevalence of a variant with decreasing number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths is very different than increasing prevalence of a variant with increasing number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

“The key metrics to follow now are not infections or attack rates but hospitalization, vaccination, and carrying capacity of hospitals. If we increase vaccination and carrying capacity of hospitals, we can manage new variants – as we did in South Africa with Omicron.”

Tulio de Oliveira
  • De Oliveira also shared some recent findings from the World Health Organisation, to support his point:

What is BA.2? New Omicron mutation ‘not troubling’ SA experts

Richard Lessells is an infectious diseases physician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. He has also downplayed the threat posed by BA.2, saying that the Omicron mutation is ‘definitely not a game-changer‘ – and, when people who are much, much smarter tell us not to worry, it’s worth listening to them…

“The subvariant is unlikely to cause a huge wave of reinfection. We might expect that there would be some reinfections because in many cases the immune response to Omicron may not be a particularly strong one – but I think it’s very unlikely that it’s going to break through the immunity from BA.1. It’s definitely not a game-changer.”

Richard Lessells