Covid evolving differently: Experts on how new waves will emerge

  • Within six months since its emergence, the Omicron coronavirus variant evolved with several subvariants and currently, two new offshoots – BA.4 and BA.5 that are once again driving a surge in COVID-19 cases.

If it has been predicted earlier, the Covid virus has started evolving differently. Compared with the first two years of the pandemic when variants seemed to appear out of nowhere, Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatician at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, who had detected the emergence of BA.4 and BA.5, pointed out new waves of coronavirus are periodically emerging from already circulating strains, for example, Omicron. However, experts warned “we shouldn’t rule out more such surprises from SARS-CoV-2.”
Within six months since its emergence, the Omicron coronavirus variant evolved with several subvariants and currently, two new offshoots – BA.4 and BA.5 that are once again driving a surge in COVID-19 cases. 
Studies BA.4 and BA.5 — are slightly more transmissible than earlier forms of Omicron1, and can dodge some of the immune protection conferred by previous infection and vaccination. But it is yet to be identified whether they can trigger massive hospitalisation.  
“These are the first signs that the virus is evolving differently,” said Tulio de Oliveira as quoted by scientific journal Nature. 

The next wave 

Although BA.4 and BA.5 have been detected in several European countries and in North America, the variants might not set off a fresh COVID-19 wave in these places — at least right away. This is mostly because population’s immunity could still be high from the BA.2 surge. 
The emergence of these strains suggests that the Omicron lineage is continuing to make gains by eroding immunity, says Ho. “It’s pretty clear that there are a few holes in Omicron that are gradually being filled up by these new sub-variants.”
If SARS-CoV-2 continues along this path, its evolution could come to resemble that of other respiratory infections, such as influenza. In this scenario, immune-evading mutations in circulating variants, such as Omicron, could combine with dips in population-wide immunity to become the key drivers of periodic waves of infection.
“It is probably what we should expect to see more and more of in the future,” an expert told Nature. 
However, experts further warned we shouldn’t rule out more such surprises from SARS-CoV-2. For instance, Delta hasn’t completely vanished and, as global immunity to Omicron and its expanding family increases, a Delta descendant could mount a comeback
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