New strain of Covid-19 Omicron variant detected
A more contagious version of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was detected on the island last month.
But medics said they did not expect an increase in hospitalisations because the symptoms of the new strain – BA.2 or “stealth Omicron” – were similar to the original BA.1 variant.
Research has suggested that BA.2 may be up to 50 per cent more transmissible than BA1.
There has been an increase in the number of cases recorded in Europe and the US in recent days after the virus appeared to be in decline.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said: “The coronavirus BA.2 variant was identified in a selection of positive samples sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency in March, which included persons who tested positive during early March.
“Of the 18 samples sent, all were Omicron, with nine samples showing BA.2 lineage. One sample was not sequenced as it did not meet the criteria.
“At this time, and based on this limited data, all we can say definitively is that BA.2 is circulating in Bermuda and has been since at least March.
“However, given the increased transmissibility of BA.2, it is likely that BA.2 is the predominant strain at this time.”
The spokeswoman added that more samples would be sent to the Caribbean this month, which might help show if BA. 2 is now the dominant strain.
She said: “We know that initial data suggests that BA.2 is inherently more transmissible than BA.1.
“This difference in transmissibility appears to be much smaller than, for example, the difference between BA.1 and Delta.
“Current data does not suggest any significant difference in the severity of symptoms between these two Omicron strains.”
The spokeswoman admitted that, although anyone who has had two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine was classed as “immunised”, the drug only gave “some protection” from serious illness and death.
The spokeswoman added: “Like other vaccines, it is presumed that the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine may give cross-protection from other strains of Covid-19 virus, but studies are ongoing.
“After the primary series, boosters are given to stimulate the immune’s memory system.”
Wesley Miller, the Chief of Staff at the Bermuda Hospitals Board, said that staff were “on alert” for an influx of patients.
Dr Miller added: “Research in other countries where BA.2 is dominant indicates that this Omicron variant is more infectious than the original Omicron.”
He said the hospital was “watching admissions very closely and we remain at disaster alert level 2 – which is a ready state of preparedness”.
Dr Miller warned: “Covid has not gone away, and we know that the situation could change quickly if hospitalisations rise, or a new variant that is more severe or deadly starts to spread.”
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