Here’s what we know about BA.2, the sister of Omicron

Agencies
February 3, 2022

Cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron have escalated globally over the past two months, with many countries experiencing peaks higher than previous variants.

Now we’re seeing cases of a sub-variant of Omicron, known as BA.2, emerge in Australia and more than 50 countries.

Rather than a daughter of the Omicron variant BA.1 (or B.1.1.529), it’s more helpful to think of BA.2 as Omicron’s sister.

Remind me, what is a variant?

Viruses, and particularly RNA viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, make lots of mistakes when they reproduce. They can’t correct these mistakes, so they have a relatively high rate of errors, or mutations, and are constantly evolving.

When the genetic code of a virus changes as a result of these mutations, it’s referred to as a variant.

Omicron is a “highly divergent” variant, having accumulated more than 30 mutations in the spike protein. This has reduced the protection of antibodies from both prior infection and vaccination, and increased transmissibility.

When do health authorities worry about a new variant?

If changes in the genetic code are thought to have the potential to impact properties of the virus that make it more harmful, and there’s significant transmission in multiple countries, it will be deemed a “variant of interest”.

If a variant of interest is then shown to be more infectious, evade protection from vaccination or previous infection, and/or impact the performance of tests or treatments, it is labelled a “variant of concern”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Omicron a variant of concern on November 26 because of its potential to cause higher reinfection rates, increased transmissibility and reduced vaccine protection.

What is the Omicron lineage?

A lineage, or sub-variant, is a genetically closely related group of virus variants derived from a common ancestor.

The Omicron variant comprises three sub-lineages: B.1.1.529 or BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3.

While the WHO has not given BA.2 a separate classification, the United Kingdom has labelled BA.2 a variant “under investigation”. So not yet a variant of interest or concern, based on WHO definitions, but one that is being watched closely.

This is not the first variant to have sub-lineages. Late last year, Delta “plus” or AY.4.2 was reported widely, then Omicron came along.

What’s different about BA.2?

While the first sequences of BA.2 were submitted from the Philippines – and we have now seen thousands of cases, including in the United States, the UK and some in Australia – its origin is still unknown.

The exact properties of BA.2 are also still being investigated. While there is no evidence so far that it causes more severe disease, scientists do have some specific concerns.

1. It’s harder to differentiate

A marker that helped differentiate Omicron (BA.1) from other SARS-CoV-2 variants on PCR tests is the absence of the the S gene, known as “S gene target failure”. But this is not the case for BA.2.

The inability to detect this lineage in this way has led some to label it the “stealth sub-variant”.

But it doesn’t mean we can’t diagnose BA.2 with PCR tests. It just means when someone tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, it will take us a little longer to know which variant is responsible, through genome sequencing. This was the case with previous variants.

2. It may be more infectious

Perhaps most concerning is emerging evidence BA.2 may be more infectious than the original Omicron, BA.1.

A preliminary study from Denmark, where BA.2 has largely replaced BA.1, suggests BA.2 increases unvaccinated people’s susceptibility of infection by just over two times when compared to BA.1.

The researchers suggest fully vaccinated people are 2.5 times more susceptible to BA.2 than BA.1, and those who were booster vaccinated are nearly three times more susceptible.

The study examined more than 2,000 primary household cases of BA.2 to determine the number of cases that arose during a seven-day follow up period.

The researchers also estimated the secondary attack rate (basically, the probability infection occurs) to be 29 per cent for households infected with BA.1 versus 39 per cent for those infected with BA.2.

This Danish study is still a preprint, meaning it’s yet to be checked by independent scientists, so more research is needed to confirm if BA.2 is truly more infectious than BA.1.

We’re likely to see new variants We should expect new variants, sub-variants and lineages to continue to emerge. With such high levels of transmission, the virus has abundant opportunity to reproduce and for errors or mutations to continue to arise.

The way to address this, of course, is to try to slow transmission and reduce the susceptible pool of hosts in which the virus can freely replicate.

Strategies such as social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as increasing vaccination rates globally, will slow the emergence of new variants and lineages. 

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News Network
February 4,2023

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Mangaluru, Feb 4: Four Indian expatriate workers including three from coastal Karnataka’s Mangaluru region were killed in a ghastly road mishap in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last night.

The deceased have been identified as Akil, Nasir, Rizwan and Shihab. Among them Rizwan, hailed from Haleyangady while Akhil was from Bolar in Mganluru. The details of two others were not immediately available.

According to unconfirmed reports, the mishap occurred in Khurais area of Riyadh province when their car rammed into a camel. 

More details are awaited. 

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News Network
February 3,2023

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Mumbai, Feb 3: The brutal stock rout in Gautam Adani’s companies continued Friday, an indication that the billionaire needs to do more to restore confidence in his conglomerate’s financial health after accusations of fraud by Hindenburg Research.

The group’s 10 stocks all fell in early Mumbai trading, with $120 billion, or more than half of their combined value, erased since the US-based short seller last week claimed that offshore shell entities were used to inflate Adani group’s revenues and manipulate stock prices. Flagship Adani Enterprises Ltd. sank as much as 25%, taking its decline to 66% in seven trading sessions.

The continued slump reflects worries about Adani’s access to funding after the tycoon scrapped a key stock offering this week, and as long-held concerns about the group’s debt load were propelled onto the global stage by Hindenburg. The embattled tycoon is in talks with creditors to prepay some loans backed by pledged shares, as some banks stopped accepting the securities of the group that spans from ports to energy as collateral in client trades.

“Clearing of pledges may not help. Now the only point is investors are not just interested in clearing pledges, they want concrete plans and actions,” said Sameer Kalra, founder of Target Investing in Mumbai. “The use of every rupee on balance sheet is critical now. There are a lot of stakeholders.”

The crisis of confidence in Adani has become a national issue with opposition lawmakers disrupting parliament on Thursday to demand answers from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, given how closely his interests are intertwined with the nation’s growth plans. Government officials have sought to downplay the impact.

Hindenburg Research last week accused the Adani group of “brazen” market manipulation and accounting fraud, claiming that a web of Adani-family controlled offshore shell entities in tax havens were used to facilitate corruption, money laundering and taxpayer theft.

The conglomerate has repeatedly denied the allegations, called the report “bogus,” and threatened legal action. Adani gave a video speech on Thursday stating that the group’s balance sheet is healthy.

The conglomerate has repeatedly denied the allegations, called the report “bogus,” and threatened legal action. Adani gave a video speech on Thursday stating that the group’s balance sheet is healthy.

In a reprieve for Adani, who has seen his personal fortune drop by $58 billion since the allegations, the group’s bonds rallied Friday after Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. told some clients that the debt can offer value due to the strength of certain assets. All 15 dollar debt securities advanced, partly helped by news that Adani Ports & Special Economic Zone Ltd. has made a coupon payment on schedule.

Meanwhile, banks have been tightening scruty on Adani companies’ securities. Units of Credit Suisse Group AG and Citigroup Inc. earlier this week stopped accepting some securities issued by Adani’s companies as collateral for margin loans to wealthy clients.

Separately, Lord Jo Johnson, the former Conservative minister and brother of former UK prime minister Boris Johnson, has resigned as a director of Elara Capital, a London-based firm embroiled in the controversy at the Adani empire, the Financial Times reported. The firm was one of the 10 bookrunners on the record share sale that Adani Enterprises abruptly abandoned earlier this week.

Adani’s proposed loan prepayment would see lenders release some of the stock in the group’s companies that was pledged as collateral, Bloomberg News reported, citing a person with knowledge of the matter. The Indian group hasn’t faced margin calls on these pledges and is seeking the prepayment proactively, the person added.

“Markets are looking for clarity on allegations and are likely not calmed via clearing of pledges,” said Nitin Chanduka, a strategist with Bloomberg Intelligence.

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News Network
January 26,2023

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Pakistan captain Babar Azam was named as winner of the ICC Men's ODI Cricketer of the Year 2022 award, winning the coveted honour for the second year in a row. He had competition from Australia's leg-spinner Adam Zampa, West Indies' opener Shai Hope and Zimbabwe's off-spin all-rounder Sikandar Raza.

Azam played only nine ODI matches in 2022, but the 28-year-old made them count as he smashed three centuries, a further five half-centuries and only really failed with the bat on one occasion.

He has been at the top of the men's ODI player rankings since July 2021, scoring 679 runs at a stunning average of 84.87 in the nine matches he played in 2022, registering eight scores of more than fifty, three of which he converted into hundreds.

Azam had a memorable year as captain of the Pakistan ODI team, winning three out of three series. Pakistan were unstoppable in the ODI format, losing just one match (against Australia) out of nine.

His best effort in ODIs this year was 114 against Australia in Lahore. Set a daunting target of 349 by Australia, Azam put on a masterclass in chasing a total. Walking out to bat when his team needed 231 from 187 balls, Babar almost took his side home with an exceptional display of shot-making.

Azam brought up his hundred off just 73 balls, his fastest ever in ODI cricket and stuck around till the 44th over. The rest of the batters finished the job as they recorded their highest-ever successful chase in ODIs, with Azam deservedly named Player of the Match.

ICC also said Richard Illingworth won the award for Umpire of the Year in 2022. Illingworth, who played nine Tests and 25 ODIs for England as a left-arm spinner from 1991-1996, had won the honour earlier in 2019 and is now a two-time ICC Umpire of the Year. 

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