Stealth BA.2 Omicron Variant Found in 67 Countries Will Become Dominant, Says WHO Expert

A sub-variant of the Omicron variant of COVID is spreading rapidly in Europe and Asia and could become the dominant variant of the virus. The so-called "stealth" Omicron COVID sub-variant BA.2 has now been found in 67 countries.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Dr. Dorit Nitzan, regional director for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the expected trajectory of BA.2 will see the sub-variant become the new dominant variant of COVID once it passes a certain threshold as is being seen in Denmark and the U.K.

BA.2, one of three Omicron sub-variants, accounted for 82 percent of new cases as of January 31 in Denmark according to Outbreak.info. The country has recently announced the lifting of all COVID restrictions.

Research Director, Co-Director of the MPH Global Health Epidemiology Program CE, and an epidemiologist in Copenhagen, Lone Simonsen, told Newsweek: "BA.2 is already dominant in Denmark, but we see no rise in severe illness and ICU admissions are dropping. My take is BA.2 is a faster but not more deadly variant."

Since Newsweek last reported on the BA.2 sub-variant in the United States, the number of states in which cases have been discovered has risen from 30 to 42 according to Outbreak.info. Currently, BA.2 is estimated to account for just 1 percent of new COVID cases in the U.S. where the spread of COVID is decreasing and restrictions are starting to be lifted.

In the U.K., according to Outbreak.info, 9 percent of new COVID cases were the result of the sub-variant as of February 3, a sharp rise since mid-January when it accounted for just 1 percent of new cases.

Worldwide as of the same day, stealth Omicron, which Newsweek previously reported likely earned its nickname because it is detected differently in certain COVID PCR tests, accounted for approximately 18 percent of new COVID cases.

Professor of Vaccine Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the U.K., Mark Jit, told Newsweek: "There were already indications from the rapid rise of BA.2 in Denmark back in early January that it may be more transmissible than BA.1. This has now been supported by analyses in the U.K. and other countries."

Speaking to Newsweek, Professor of Evolution and Genomics at Oxford University, Aris Katzourakis, pointed out that trends seen in one country may not be repeated elsewhere. He said: "I wouldn't say I was that surprised by this, no. It seems to be a bit more transmissible than the original Omicron, so it would dominate.

"It seems likely to dominate in many countries, however, one big unknown is how much of the transmissibility is to do with immune evasion and the immunological profile of different countries. Thus, what is seen in one country may not always be replicated in others."

What also isn't totally clear as yet is the severity of the BA. Omicron sub-variant, which as part of that lineage is treated as a variant of concern by the WHO.

Jit said: "We should soon be able to tell whether it has the same severity and ability to escape vaccine protection as the most common Omicron strain, BA.1.

"Even if it is not more severe, its higher transmissibility will probably mean that the Omicron waves the world is experiencing will be larger."

A spokesperson for the Colorado State Joint Information Center told Newsweek: "We still are learning about BA.2, but the fact that it appears to be replacing BA.1 in some countries suggests it may have an advantage, such as increased transmissibility, over BA.1.

"At this time, we don't have evidence that it causes increased severity of illness or is more able to evade immunity."

They added that the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment has thus far detected three cases of COVID caused by the BA.2 lineage using sequencing of clinical samples submitted to the state lab.

The Colorado State Joint Information Center concluded: "The best protection against COVID-19 and its variants is to get vaccinated and stay up to date on vaccinations."

COVID Test
A medical worker prepares a Covid-19 PCR test at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts on December 20, 2021. The BA.2 Omicron sub-variant of COVID that dominates in Denmark and is spreading rapidly in Europe and Asia has now been found in 67 countries. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/GETTY