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‘Just like Omicron…’: Why are scientists paying more attention to new Covid variant?

Is the highly-mutated new variant of coronavirus, BA.2.86, a matter of global concern? Researchers around the world are trying to determine its impact with many of them finding resemblance of its origin with that of the early days of Omicron variant that swiftly reigned over the globe in 2021-22.

Scientists discovered the lineage of BA.2.86 variant is linked with Omicron subvariant BA.2. NEXU Science Communication/File Photo(via REUTERS)

Much like Omicron, BA.2.86, which is causing spike in Covid cases in the US, UK and other countries, carries numerous changes in its spike protein. It is the key area of the virus that attacks human’s immune system.

According to Nature, several scientists believe that the emergence of this new variant won’t create a wave like Omicron given the broader range of immunity against Covid-19 due to larger vaccine roll-outs. “There’s good reason to think it won’t be like the Omicron wave, but it’s early days,” Adam Lauring, virologist, told the science journal.

Why are scientist on alert regarding BA.2.86?

Scientists discovered the lineage of BA.2.86 variant is linked with Omicron subvariant BA.2. People with long-term Covid-19 infection were found to have larger spike mutations in the virus, similar to what BA.2.86 found to have.

According to Ashish Jha, a public-health researcher at Brown University in US’ Rhode Island, BA.2.86 is drastically different than frequently mutated variants of SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) virus. “Just like Omicron was a little out of left field, this BA.2.86 is little out of left field…There is enough here to get us all to start paying attention,” he told Nature.

Another virologist Jesse Bloom said that BA.2.86 has the potential to escape from antibodies that could neutralise its effects. In other words, people who developed antibodies through booster vaccines or earlier Covid infection may still be vulnerable to infection by the new variant.

As of August 21, six cases of Covid infection have been reported in Israel, United Kingdom, Denmark and United States. Scientists fear that all these cases are not linked – which means the patients got infected despite not travelling to between these countries, suggesting a fair amount of community transmission that may have happened already.

Should you worry about this new variant?

Bloom said the new variant may fizzle out even before people around the globe get a grasp over its existence. “I don’t think anybody needs to be alarmed by this,” the virologist said.

Jha believes the chances of BA.2.86 creating a next wave are ‘exceedingly low’.

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