Amid a global
surge in coronavirus cases, primarily driven by the Omicron BA 2 variant, the
World Health Organization (WHO) has now started tracking two sister variants of
the original Omicron BA.1 – BA.4 and BA.5. The world health body is trying to
find out the transmissibility of these newly-surfaced variants and also whether
the variants pose greater dangers.

Also Read | How was Omicron, the new COVID variant, named?

“We are tracking a
few dozen cases of two new sub-variants of the highly-transmissible Omicron
strain. We are already tracking BA.1 and BA.2 – now globally dominant – as well
as BA 1.1 and BA.3,” the health body said on Monday.

Sister variants
on the block

The BA.4 and BA.5
variants are the newest of the Omicron variants spreading COVID-19. They have
surfaced at a time when the BA.1 variant has come to dominate global infections
accounting for 94% of all sequenced COVID-19 cases.

Also Read | Omicron variant symptoms: Fatigue, mild fever and a scratchy throat

Race against

The original
Omicron variant had spread like wildfire causing spikes in infection and
throwing healthcare systems in disarray. But not all variants are the same.
Only some mutations have an ability to spread. That is what the WHO is
currently trying to figure out. The health body is tracking the BA.4 and BA.5
variants to determine transmissibility.

Also Read | What do we know about “stealth omicron” so far?

To scare or
not to scare

The impact of
these variants in still being studied. However, of the cases reported in South
Africa, nearly all cases reported mild symptoms. All patients suffering from
the infection and studied were vaccinated. Thus, the impact of the variants on
unvaccinated remains unclear.

How far is
the spread?

Not very.
According to data available with health agencies, only a few dozen Omicron BA.4
and BA.5 variant cases have been reported so far. The BA.4 variant has been
found in the UK, Botswana and Denmark so far, according to Britain’s state-run
health agency.