Canada’s chief physician says the Canadian Public Health Agency (PHAC) has detected more than 100 cases of a new Omicron subtype known as BA.2, doubling the number of virus line infections reported in early this week.
Dr. Theresa Tam said during the federal update for COVID-19 on Friday that the BA.2 subvariant was first discovered in Canada in November 2021 and has since been monitored “closely” by experts.
“We are one of the first countries to accept this variant and we have at least over 100 identifications,” Tam said.
In a statement sent by email to CTVNews.ca, PHAC previously said it had detected 51 cases of sub-variant BA.2 as of Wednesday. The agency added that most of the infections were from international travelers.
BA.2 is a descendant of the highly transmissible variant Omicron and has been found in nearly 50 countries since Friday, according to the global coronavirus data exchange platform GISAID.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet called BA.2 a “variant of concern”, it is sub-line propagation tracking.
The Omicron variant B.1.1.529 has four sub-lines: BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2 and BA.3.
The BA.2 sub-line is widely considered “more secretive” than the original version of Omicron because some of its genetic traits make it more difficult to detect. Some scientists say it may be even more contagious, however they acknowledge that there is still a lot of unknown about the subvariant.
“We are still learning, of course, about this subvariant, but for now, international data suggests it may have a growing advantage in proliferation,” Tam said. “There does not appear to be any specific increase in hospital admissions or severe outcomes compared to BA.1, but we will follow it very closely.”
As sub-variant cases are on the rise worldwide, Tam said it is still too early to know how it will affect Canada in the midst of the current wave.
“The vast, vast majority of our identities are BA.1, but that does not mean BA.2 can not be caught later. There is always a possibility that this could happen, but we do not actually know this yet. “, Said Tam.
“Right now it really is a BA.1 Omicron wave,” she added.
PHAC told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday BA.2 has “many similarities” to BA.1, but exhibits some differences, including mutations that could affect transmission, detection and possibly immune evasion.
“There is very limited evidence at the moment to determine how much of an impact the differences between BA.1 and BA.2 could have, hence the ongoing efforts by PHAC scientists to monitor cases here in Canada and track international developments.” said PHAC in the statement.
Despite continued uncertainty about the sub-variant, the health agency says Canadians should continue to follow the advice of public health officials.
“While the impact of all variants continues to be monitored in Canada, the Government of Canada knows that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, is key to reducing the prevalence of COVID-19 and its variants,” PHAC said.
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