Early Warning About The Omicron BA.2 Variant

BuDS would like to issue an early warning about the rapid spread in the UK of a new Covid-19 variant, known for the moment as Omicron BA.2. Read on for more…

BuDS has used only reliable scientific and academic publications to write this article, including the UKHSA’s own bulletins. But scientific understanding of BA.2 is still at an early stage, so what we say is not definitely confirmed yet.


 

WHAT IS OMICRON BA.2?

Omicron BA.2 is a new variant of the Covid-19 virus, similar in some ways to the Omicron BA.1 variant which has been spreading in the UK since last November. However, scientists know that Omicron BA.2 has significant differences in its genetic makeup compared to Omicron BA.1. Some virologists (scientists who study viruses) are starting to say Omicron BA.2 is sufficiently different to be recognised as a new variant with its own name.

The Omicron BA.2 variant has been spreading rapidly in other countries including Denmark, Norway, and India. UKHSA has confirmed that it has been spreading rapidly in the UK since the New Year. Omicron BA.2 seems to be replacing Omicron BA.1 in countries which have had it for some time, suggesting that BA.2 is more successful at infecting people than BA.1.


 

DOES THIS MATTER?

If you catch Omicron BA.1 and survive, you normally can’t catch it again for a couple of months – this is called temporary immunity. However, there are strong signs from other countries, especially Norway, that people who have already caught Omicron BA.1 ARE catching Omicron BA.2. This suggests that Omicron BA.2 can get around the temporary immunity which people who catch Omicron BA.1 have developed. If this proves to be true, this means that we could soon start to see a rapid increase in the number of infected people in the UK as BA.2 starts to spread.

As we reported only this week, Omicron BA.1 has now started to ‘run out of people to infect’ and the number of infections is starting to fall. Unfortunately, with the spread of Omicron BA.2, we MAY be ‘back to the beginning again’ and start to see case totals going back up again. The fact that Government have removed all Covid precautions (even though they knew BA.2 was coming) could make the spread of BA.2 even faster.

There is no reliable evidence yet about how effective vaccines are against Omicron BA.2.


 

OMICRON IS NOT MILD

There are no signs yet that Omicron BA.2 is more dangerous than Omicron BA.1. But there are also no signs that it is less dangerous than Omicron BA.1. BA.2 appears so far to cause roughly similar levels of death, hospitalisation, and illness as BA.1

But Omicron BA.1 is not a ‘mild’ virus. It kills some who catch it, causes severe illness requiring hospital admission in lots of people and it causes moderate but still very unpleasant illness in many people who catch it. Around 10% of those who catch it experience long-lasting symptoms, Long Covid. This wave of serious illness may not be a Hollywood-style virus catastrophe, but it is still very damaging both for people and for the economy and country as a whole. If catching Omicron BA.1 does not give protection against catching Omicron BA.2, BA.2’s spread means that the country could experience two successive waves of Omicron illness, keeping infection levels high for months to come. A longer period of high infection levels means more deaths and hospitalisations, but also millions more work, education and leisure hours lost to sickness at home.

For the millions of clinically-vulnerable people who cannot risk catching Omicron BA.1 or BA.2, a longer period of high infection levels caused by two waves would also mean a much longer period of being excluded from society.

Every other Western country is keeping controls over Covid in place to try to weaken and shorten the wave of infections from Omicron. Only in England have the Government abandoned all Covid precautions before the Omicron BA.1 wave is even over.


 

EARLY DAYS – BUT WAITING IS ALSO DANGEROUS

Remember, scientists are not yet completely sure about Omicron BA.2. It hasn’t been proven that people who have recently caught Omicron BA.1 can then catch Omicron BA.2, and we don’t yet know how dangerous Omicron BA.2 is either. The problem is that these things take weeks or months to become clear and be proven beyond all doubt. If you wait for the undisputed evidence, the wave is upon you before you have time to take precautions.


 

BuDS’ ADVICE

We are as dismayed as you that we MAY face another Omicron wave on the back of the first one. Our advice remains the same: protect yourself by being Covid-Careful. Get boosted, wear a N95 or FFPE2 face mask, avoid indoor places, groups and crowds, work and educate at home.

Above all don’t believe those who say Omicron is mild and it is easier to just catch it and ‘get it over with’. As we are seeing with BA.2, catching Omicron now, with all the risks that carries, may not automatically give you safety for the future in any case.

If you have any questions or need support, BuDS is here for you. Message us, e-mail, buds-support@buds.org.uk, or leave us a voicemail on 01494 211179 and we will do our very best to help you.