Virologists have voiced concerns about the emergence of yet another fast-spreading Omicron variant, which is rapidly gaining ground in India and has already arrived in the UK.
The warning came as MPs called for redoubled efforts to persuade the nearly 3 million adults in England who have not yet received a single dose of Covid vaccine, to take up the offer of vaccination.
The BA.2.75 variant – nicknamed “Centaurus” – was first detected in India in early May. Here, cases have since risen steeply – and apparently faster than those of the extremely transmissible BA.5 variant, which is also present in India, and is rapidly displacing the previously dominant BA.2 variant in many countries.
BA.2.75 has also since been detected in about 10 other countries, including the UK, US, Australia, Germany, and Canada.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) designated it a “variant under monitoring” on 7 July, meaning there is some indication that it could be more transmissible or associated with more severe disease, but the evidence is weak or has not yet been assessed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also closely monitoring the new variant, although its chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said there were not yet enough samples to assess its severity.
In addition to its apparent rapid growth and wide geographical spread, virologists have been alerted by the sheer number of extra mutations BA.2.75 contains, relative to BA.2, from which it is likely to have evolved. “This could mean that it has had the chance to evolve an advantage over an already successful virus lineage, said Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds.