The BA.2 omicron subvariant in Canada is making its rounds across the country. Whether it would hold back current efforts to ease COVID-19 restrictions is yet to be determined in the weeks to come.
If the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus was already considered highly contagious, its subvariant seems to surpass that even more. It is believed that the BA.2 omicron subvariant is 1.4 times more contagious than the primary omicron variant.
The subvariant is still expected to cause an increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the country. However, experts in the field believe that the BA.2 omicron subvariant in Canada will not topple over its healthcare system and the health of its citizens.
The levels of immunity against the COVID-19 virus among individuals in Canada have increased. This can be attributed to the high rates of booster vaccination and the surge in COVID-19 cases brought about by the omicron variant. An estimate of 3.5 million people have already been infected with the highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus.
Because of this, a new wave of COVID-19 cases brought about by the BA.2 omicron subvariant in Canada is not expected to occur. Rather, the current wave of COVID-19 cases brought about by the omicron variant is just expected to continue in the months to come.
Sarah Otto said that it “doesn’t necessarily mean a second major Omicron wave will happen, more likely we’ll see a prolonged peak or a shoulder in the Omicron wave.” She teaches Evolutionary Virology and Mathematical Modeling at the University of British Columbia and is an expert on the BA.2 omicron subvariant in Canada.
However, this does not mean that the country is out of the woods just yet. There are many aspects of the subvariant that can only be known in the course of the next few weeks or months.
Learning From Denmark
Other countries have recently experienced a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases due to the BA.2 omicron subvariant. This includes Denmark, wherein the country lifted all restrictions for COVID-19 last month. It proved to be a decision that was made too soon. The number of new COVID-19 cases has been increasing more than any other country in the world. Hospital admissions and deaths due to the virus have also similarly increased.
Dr. Eric Topol, the Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted a few days ago, saying, “not looking good Denmark. Deaths are now 67% of peak with a steep ascent.”
A study conducted by Japanese researchers also states that the BA.2 variant should not be classified as a subvariant of Omicron. It has different characteristics from the earlier BA.1 Omicron subvariant. Specifically, compared to the BA.1 omicron subvariant, the BA.2 subvariant is 1.4 times more transmissible, easily replicates in nasal ciliated cells, and produces more damage to the host’s health.
Because of this, the researchers believe that the BA.2 variant should be a variant of its own and be given a specific name. They reported that “out multi-scale investigations suggest that the risk of BA.2 for global health is potentially higher than BA.1.”
The Current Situation of the BA.2 Omicron Subvariant in Canada
A report published by the B.C. COVID-19 modelling group showed that the following percentages of COVID-19 cases in the provinces were due to the BA.2 omicron subvariant: 35% in Alberta, 12% in Ontario, and 8.3% in British Columbia.
However, Otto warns that these values should not always be taken as they are because they may under-represent the actual situation in the provinces. Genetic sequencing on samples of COVID-19 positive individuals is often not done in a timely manner. The process is also not seamlessly conducted across the provinces of the country. Because of this, there may be more COVID-19 cases due to the BA.2 Omicron subvariant than what is reported.
The actual numbers could actually be as high as 99% in Alberta and 34% in Ontario.
There are also some studies that show individuals who have already tested positive for the BA.1 omicron subvariant are protected from infection with the BA.2 omicron subvariant. This is beneficial for Ontario because they have reported 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 due to the omicron variant. As such, many people would be immune to the new subvariant going around.
Even if the severity of cases brought about by the BA.2 Omicron subvariant is not yet completely known, there seems to be no reason to worry about it as of now. Dr. Doug Manuel, a member of the Science Advisory Table in Ottawa, said that there are no “red flags” indicating that the subvariant is more dangerous than the previous variants of the coronavirus.
Should COVID-19 Restrictions in the Provinces Be Lifted?
Otto believes that Alberta may be more negatively affected by the BA.2 omicron subvariant, wherein the peak of COVID-19 cases in the province could extend or recur. This is because the restrictions in Alberta were lifted even before the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant waned.
On the other hand, the situation looks better in Ontario. The number of new COVID-19 cases has been on a decline this month, and the rate of vaccination for booster doses is high. At the same time, many people were infected with COVID-19 during the surge brought about by the BA.1 Omicron subvariant. This gives citizens more protection against the BA.2 Omicron subvariant.
The easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario has also been done more gradually, which is backed up by the favorable health indicators in the province. Because of this, they are not expected to be hit too hard by the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, just as what happened in Denmark.
In terms of mandates on the wearing of face masks, Otto believes that they should be continued, especially in public areas. The benefits of wearing face masks far outweigh any perceived disadvantages. It is best to wait until more information becomes available about the BA.2 Omicron subvariant. The effects of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, in terms of the number of new cases, hospital admissions, and intensive care unit (ICU) utilization, should also be evaluated first. When these pieces of information become available, reasonable decisions can be made.
As of now, only the transmissibility of the new subvariant has been identified as a concern. However, everyone in the scientific community is continuously monitoring any new developments about the BA.2 Omicron subvariant in Canada. This will enable provinces to quickly adapt should the subvariant prove to be more harmful than what is currently known.
Symptoms of the Omicron Variant
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the symptoms of the Omicron variant are similar to what has been observed in the variants that came before it. These include:
- Fever or chills
- Difficulty of breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- Newly developed loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
However, some experts have also observed that the common symptoms that patients infected with the Omicron variant appear to be the following:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Body pain or fatigue
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, it is best to isolate and seek medical advice.