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Omicron lineages raise concerns among geneticists, scientists in India

Hyderabad: The rise of Covid infections, causing the fifth wave in South Africa due to two new lineages of Omicron-BA 4 and BA 5, has triggered fears among geneticists and scientists here on the potential of new variants to create a similar surge of infections in Telangana and elsewhere in the country.

The swift rise of Covid infections in South Africa due to BA 4 and BA 5 reminds of a similar surge due to BA 1, the first Omicron variant, reported in November 2021. The BA 1 variant quickly spread from South Africa and triggered a third Covid wave in the country between December 2021 and February 2022.

While the current evidence on the potential of BA 4 and BA 5 to trigger such a major surge is still not sufficient, given the past experience, public health experts have urged people to be cautious and follow Covid appropriate behaviour, especially masking at crowded areas.

A few days ago, South Africa’s top Covid research institute Centre for Epidemiological Research and Innovation (CERI) confirmed that Covid cases in that country had more than tripled in the last two weeks due to BA 4 and BA 5.

Director, CERI, Dr Tulio de Oliviera on Saturday tweeted, “Clear signs of 5th wave in SA. The positivity ratio is as high as the previous 4 waves. Please take care and do not be fooled that a new variant is needed to cause a new wave. Omicron BA 4 and BA 5 are antigenic distinct from BA 1 as other variants were from each other”.

Based on initial pre-print studies and reports, the BA 4 and BA 5 have a growth advantage over BA 2, the Omicron variant that was active in India. Both the BA 4 and BA 5 can escape the natural immunity gained by individuals after BA 1 infection. Scientist and former Director, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Dr Anurag Agrawal, pointed out that during the Covid third wave, BA 1 was active in South Africa while India mostly had BA 2 variant.

“Immunity to BA 4 and BA 5 will be lower among individuals who have a natural immunity to BA 1 than those who have recovered from BA 2,” Dr Anurag, on Twitter said.