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
June 27,2022

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Mumbai, June 27: There was jubilation in the rebel Shiv Sena legislators' camp after the Supreme Court proceedings on Monday while hectic politicking started in the Bharatiya Janata Party and the mood turned sombre in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadig.

Rebel leader Minister Eknath Shinde tweeted, "This is the victory of Hindu HridaySamrat Balasaheb Thackeray's Hindutva and the ideology of Dharmveer Anand Dighe."

The faction - currently in a Guwahati hotel - erupted into joy and celebrations after the apex court ruling and also expressed gratitude to the Centre for providing security to the rebel MLAs and their families.

Shinde is reported to have initiated the process to finalise and send a letter to the Maharashtra Governor that they have withdrawn support to the MVA government of Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress.

On the Opposition side, the BJP's core committee meeting got under way with top leaders present to finalise their strategy to form the next government in the state, possibly with the help of the rebel group.

Shinde has claimed the support of 39 Sena MLAs, and 11 independents or other parties, totalling to 48, and the group is likely to extend its sojourn in Assam by a few more days.

Several leaders joining the meeting were seen beaming in anticipation and some flashed the 'V' sign, indicating an upbeat mood.

Hitting out again, MVA Minister Aditya Thackeray alleged that many of the MLAs were misled or abducted to join the rebel group and the party is ready to take them back.

"If the rebels had courage, they would have first resigned and faced the electorate instead of all this," said Thackeray Jr.

Sena chief spokesperson and MP Sanjay Raut said that "this a legal battle and will continue" and said the party will fight it out.

Court Relief For Rebel Sena MLAs

The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday virtually kept the disqualification proceedings initiated against 16 rebel Shiv Sena MLAs led by Eknath Shinde in abeyance, by extending the time for them to file their response to the notice issued by the Deputy Speaker, till July 12.

A bench of Justices Surya Kant and J B Pardiwala said the status quo needs to be maintained in the matter, in order to decide the competing claims. The 16 MLAs were given time to file their response by 5:30 pm Tuesday.

"We have to decide very competence of the Deputy Speaker if he is entitled to proceed with the matter. Today, we have to ensure that the matter does not become infructuous," the bench said.

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News Network
June 21,2022

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Male, June 21: Police in the Maldives used tear gas and pepper spray to control a crowd of people who disrupted a yoga event organised by the Indian High Commission, or embassy, in the capital Male on Tuesday morning, an organiser said.

The crowd stormed a stadium where more than 150 people, including diplomats and government officers, were taking part in an event celebrating International Day of Yoga, attacking participants and vandalising the property, one of the organisers, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak with the media, told Reuters.

Earlier, the protesters brandished placards proclaiming that yoga was against the tenets of Islam.

Islam is the state religion in the Maldives, a group of islands in the Indian Ocean with a population of about half a million.

Police responded with anti-riot measures and later used pepper spray and tear gas to control the crowd and secure the area, Superintendent of Police Fathmath Nashwa told Reuters.

Six people have been arrested in connection with the incident, Nashwa said.

Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said a police investigation into the incident had begun.

"This is being treated as a matter of serious concern and those responsible will be swiftly brought before the law," Solih said on Twitter. 

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News Network
June 16,2022

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Patna, June 16: Trains were set afire, window panes of buses smashed and passersby, including a ruling BJP MLA, pelted with stones on Thursday in Bihar by Army job aspirants whose protest against the Centre's short-term recruitment scheme, 'Agnipath', continued for the second consecutive day.

Police fired teargas shells and charged baton to disperse the angry youngsters who blocked railway tracks, threw burning tyres on roads and performed push-ups and other drills on the streets as a mark of protest against the new recruitment process, under which hiring has been proposed for a four-year-period followed by compulsory retirement, for at least 75 per cent of the personnel, without any pension benefits.

In Nawada, the vehicle of BJP MLA Aruna Devi, who was on her way to a court, was attacked by the agitators who hurled stones at her car, leaving five persons, including the legislator, injured.

"The protesters seemed to have been provoked by the sight of the party flag, fitted on my car, which they tore. My driver, two security guards and two personal staff members have sustained injuries," the MLA told reporters, adding that she was "too shaken" to have registered a police complaint.

Railway property bore the brunt of the protesters as stationary bogeys were set on fire at Bhabhua and Chhapra stations and window panes of compartments smashed at many places.

In Arrah, the railway station was swarmed by a large number of protesters who were dispersed after the police fired teargas shells.

The East Central Railway zone, headquartered in Hajipur, reported massive disruption of rail traffic. Busy routes like Patna-Gaya, Barauni-Katihar and Danapur-DDU were listed among those worst-affected by the stir, officials said.

In Buxar, station manager Rajan Kumar said many trains were stranded at the outer signal as the tracks were blocked by agitators whom police and administrative officials were trying to pacify.

Demonstrations staged by the protesters disrupted road traffic in districts such as Jehanabad, Buxar, Katihar, Saran, Bhojpur and Kaimur, where many locals sustained injuries in incidents of stone-pelting, the officials said.

Details of police action, including FIRs registered in connection with the violence and arrests made in the connection, were not known immediately. 

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