The BA.2 variant is currently deemed a variant under investigation (VUI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), following the discovery that it has similar properties to the original Omicron strain of COVID.
It is not yet known what the impact of the new variant is, but experts have shared their concern on how it may prolong the current wave.
Dr Meera Chand, COVID incident director at UKHSA, said: “It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it’s to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge as the pandemic goes on.
“Our continued genomic surveillance allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant.
“So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate.”
Francois Balloux, professor of computational biology at University College, London, added BA.2 was “about 20 mutations” apart from the original BA.1 Omicron strain.
He said: “Interestingly, the two Omicron sub lineages are sister clades that split from other several months ago, and are not derived from each other,.
“At this stage, BA.1 and BA.2 can be considered as two epidemiologically largely equivalent sub-lineages of omicron.”
Meanwhile, Professor Oliver Johnson, director of the Institute for Statistical Science at Bristol University, said the new variant may not be something to worry about, but it just might means COVID sticks around longer than previously thought.
He said on Twitter: “It may mean things being a slog in the ‘1,000 to 2,000 [hospital] admissions’ range for longer than we’d like, so we can’t start to make inroads into waiting lists as a result. Like I say, probably one to keep an eye on rather than panic about at the moment, but still potentially annoying.”