A new “sister” Omicron variant has been detected which has the lineage of the new strain and scientists say this is already spreading globally.
Scientists have said this new “sister” variant it genetically similar to Omicron was found in a man who flew from South Africa to Brisbane, Australia.
The difference with this new found strain is that it is missing a genetic quirk which prevents officials and health authorities to be to track it spreading quickly, which has been called Omicron Like.
It is also unknown at this stage if this is more transmissible, or less or more infectious and if it can dodge vaccines.
Scientists have said initial analysis shows this new Omicron Like variant has it’s very own set of mutations, which in theory means the BA.2 could be more transmissible than the Delta strain, which could evade vaccines, but this is still not known for certain.
Queensland’s Health Minister Yvette D’Ath confirmed the new case during a press conference on Tuesday night.
She said, “We are standing here announcing a new version of Omicron and it’s a first in the world.”
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken said experts are able to distinguish between the new “sister” type and the South African variant genetically.
He said, “[They] recognised there are differences between the full and normal Omicron classification, passed it on to the international committee in a really quick time frame.
“This now led to a re-classification of Omicron.
“It has enough genes to be classified as Omicron, but we don’t know enough about it for what that means as far as clinical severity, vaccine effectiveness.
“What we do know is that Omicron is more infectious and more transmissible.”
The man who flew back from Gauteng last week is now in quarantine in a Brisbane hotel facility as he has Covid.
Scientists say BA.2 has now been spotted in genomes submitted by Australia, South Africa and Canada, which does suggest Omicron Like is already spreading in other countries.
Omicron Like does not have an S gene dropout, which means this mutant virus can go under the radar when a person has a PCR test.
A person who has Omicron Like can still test positive for Covid, however it will be unknown immediately if the person has Omicron which will make test and tracing of an outbreak far slower.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, “There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat.”
The Professor was asked outright by the BBC if a national lockdown could be imposed, he said, “Clearly if the consensus is it’s highly likely that the NHS is overwhelmed then it will be for the Government to decide what to do about that but it’s a difficult situation to be in of course. It certainly might be possible at the current time.”
Boris Johnson updated his Cabinet on Tuesday over the situation with Omicron as scientists have warned they predict there could up to 2,000 cases already in the UK who have the virus.