TWO new Omicron variants have spread rapidly in South Africa, leaving experts fearful of a fifth Covid wave.
Since it emerged at the end of last year, Omicron has spawned several variations.
The newer variants are starting to rise in numbers in South Africa
We are now seeing more cases of BA.4 and BA.5 all over the world, with South Africa seeing the most at the moment.
Within weeks daily infections have gone from a few hundred up to more than 6,000-a-day.
Official figures show positive tests have jumped from 4 per cent a couple of weeks ago to 19 per cent yesterday.
It has sparked concern a fifth Covid wave could begin in the country as early as next month, as the country heads into winter.
There is a suggestion both new variants can spread faster than BA.2, which spread even faster than the original Omicron.
However, it is not currently thought to be any more severe. Omicron original, and BA.2 are a milder strain, especially in the vaccinated.
Booster vaccinations also work against them – with the most vulnerable in the UK currently being offered a Spring shot.
Omicron was originally spotted in South Africa before Christmas, with scientists carefully watching this outbreak.
Professor Tim Spector said this week: “We are keeping an eye on this because South Africa is where Omicron was first picked up and they are seeing BA.4 and 5 increasing quite fast.”
South Africa is yet to see a significant rise in hospitalisations or deaths, but there is a usually lag behind rising cases on this happening.
A briefing in the country this week heard from experts on the rise, warning waning immunity from previous waves might be why cases are spreading quickly.
The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) said the first positive swab of BA.4 was found in South Africa in January.
This was where it was first detected and flagged by scientists, but not necessarily its origin.
So far, England and Scotland have each officially reported one case of BA.4, but this data from April 8, so it’s likely there are many more now.
The UK has also got growing numbers of XE, another sub-variant.
XE is a combination of the Omicron strains BA.1, which was dominant over Christmas, and the currently dominant BA.2.
“The early signs are that it is going to be very transmissible so it will probably become the dominant strain again,” said Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, according to the Independent.
“Again the early signs from elsewhere are that it’s not causing any more serious illness and that the vaccine is protecting people.
“So even though it will most likely become dominant it hopefully won’t cause any significant problems.”
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