New Omicron variant detected in Belgium

New Omicron variant detected in Belgium
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A new subvariant of the Omicron Covid-19 virus has been detected in Belgium after it was previously identified in the United States and South Africa.

The new Omicron subvariant was discovered in New York a month ago and found to be half more infectious than the ordinary Omicron variant, which is still dominant in the US. In South Africa, new virus strains are seeing daily cases almost quadruple.

New subvariants of the Covid-19 virus have developed ever since the start of the pandemic in 2020, most of which did not accelerate the infection rate or have worse consequences than other variants.

Even though the Omicron variant spreads much faster than the original virus, the new subvariant is no reason for panic, according to virologist Steven Van Gucht.

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In Belgium, some infections with the subvariants found in South Africa have been identified, but as only a fraction of the population is tested, the subvariants will be more widespread than the figures indicate.

But Van Gucht insists there is no cause for panic: “For the time being they still only make up a very small part of the number of infections.”

More contagious

Each new variant has been more contagious than its predecessors, and Omicron was the most contagiousness so far. The new subvariants are even more contagious than the original Omicron variant.

“If someone is infected with Omicron, they are well protected against Omicron of the same subvariant,” Van Gucht explains. “But maybe less good against other subvariants.”

That means those who have already been infected with Omicron can still be infected with its new subvariants, as the subvariants have genetic mutations that make antibodies less able to recognise and fight the virus.

The next wave?

Van Gucht doesn't expect another wave for some time, citing a number of differences between Belgium and South Africa.

Firstly the season, South Africa is heading into winter whilst summer is just around the corner for Europe. Vaccination rates are also higher in Belgium.

Moreover, Belgium has already experienced two waves of Omicron subvariants. In South Africa, the second type has yet to spread, meaning that “The population has never built up immunity against that subvariant.”

Van Gucht does expect a new wave of contamination by autumn, but not necessarily with these new subvariants. “Maybe there will be a new descendant of Omicron,” he says. “Or maybe a completely new variant is coming our way. If you think you can predict the virus, you will always be surprised.”

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