Health · June 16, 2022

The Covid omicron subvariant BA.5 will become dominant in NSW

A Covid subvariant becomes dominant in one state as experts warn Aussies to remain vigilant amid a spike in cases.

A new Omicron subvariant is becoming dominant in NSW as experts urge Australians to remain vigilant as vaccination rates fall and mask requirements end.

The Omicron sub-variant known as the BA.5 originated in South Africa and has become established in Australia as well as in the USA and Europe.

The latest NSW breath surveillance report revealed that BA.5 infections tripled between 28 May and 4 June while Omicron BA.2 cases (the most dominant strain in the state) halved.

Its prevalence has risen to the point in the last week that almost a quarter (22 per cent) of Covid infections in NSW are likely to be BA.4 – another new strain from South Africa – or BA.5 subvariant.

“BA.4 and BA.5 are expected to become the dominant strain and likely to be associated with an increase in infections in the coming weeks,” the report said.

Although there is “no evidence of a difference in the severity of the disease,” NSW Health says it is still closely monitoring the situation.

Margaret Hellard, a professor at the Burnet Institute, agreed that these subvariants are “not that bad” when it comes to making people sick, but said the community should remain vigilant nonetheless.

“It’s worrying because if you’ve had a previous infection your protection isn’t as good. A number of Australians have now had previous Covid infections,” she told Sunrise on Friday.

“Critically, I would like to point out that we still need people who have to protect themselves from these.

Professor Hellard on Thursday told a parliamentary inquiry by the Victorian Parliament into the state’s pandemic orders that Australia would suffer between 10,000 and 15,000 Covid-related deaths this year.

She’s not happy with the country’s immunization numbers, as only more than 70 percent of the eligible population have received three or more doses.

“I’m never happy with vaccination rates when there are people who could be vaccinated to protect themselves and their families, so they can and should be higher,” she said.

“Over 10,000 Australians will die from Covid this year and there are things we can do to stop that. We shouldn’t think that we can’t all do it.”

It comes at a time when mask mandates are being scrapped at airports across the country on the recommendation of Australia’s Health Safety Board.

NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT are all set to end the rule in the next two days, but Ms Hallard said wearing masks indoors was still important during a spike in cases.

“They (masks) play an important role in the range of things we can do to protect ourselves,” she said.

“I don’t think masks need to be worn all the time. I think if we get into waves of infection where the number of cases is going up, they can effectively reduce that.

“When infections are high in a community or infections are rising in a wave, masks are really effective indoors.”

Originally posted as ‘It’s a concern’: The Covid strain is becoming dominant