COVID is not over. These are sub-variants of Omicron that are still prevalent and of concern
Two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have heard about the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron variants, while this year no new variants have appeared so far.
Instead, a range of sub-variants of the Omicron appeared. They essentially exhibit various mutations in the spike protein that allow the virus to infect cells. The subvariants are named: BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4 and BA.5. Recombinant forms such as XE have also been confirmed, which is a combination of sub-variants BA.1 and BA.2.
BA.4 and BA.5: 'Concern variants'
Even more transmissible than BA.1, BA.2 or BA.3 are sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.
Just keep in mind that so far, the higher the number, the more sticky the subvariant is.
BA.4 and BA.5 were first discovered in South Africa in January and February 2022 respectively, and since then they have become the dominant variants there.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has now classified BA.4 and BA.5 as "disturbing variants" due to their rapid spread, particularly in Portugal.
The ECDC says BA.4 and BA.5 "could cause a significant overall increase in COVID-19 cases in the EU / EEA in the coming weeks and months" and will soon become the dominant variants in the region.
Are BA.4 and BA.5 more dangerous?
While both sub-variants of Omicron are more contagious than the previous ones, there is currently no indication that they are more severe and WHO says studies on this topic are underway.
The ECDC has a similar rating.
"Based on the limited data currently available, no significant increase in infection severity is expected compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2," he said.