BA.2 Stealth Omicron Spread Shows COVID Not Over, Says Science Chief

It is “clear” that the COVID pandemic is not yet over, a top UK scientist has said, due to ongoing infections driven by the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant.

The expert also said the world is going to experience another pandemic in the future and governments need to prepare for it ahead of time.

Speaking at a meeting titled The Science of COVID, hosted by the Royal Society on March 30 and March 31, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, warned that the world needed to get into a position where it can produce a brand new vaccine within 100 days of identifying a new dangerous virus or other type of pathogen, and stressed the importance of proper scientific funding.

Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, speaks at a press conference in London, UK, in October, 2020. This week Vallance warned of a future pandemic after COVID and said the world needed to be prepared.
Henry Nicholls / Pool / Getty

“It’s very obvious to everyone in this meeting that there will be a future pandemic. That, I think, is clear. What is it going to be, we have no idea.

“It’s also clear this one is not over, and we’ve got very high infection rates at the moment, and the room for this virus to evolve remains very large, so we could be taken by surprise again with a variant that escapes immunity. “

Across Europe, a number of countries have seen an increase in COVID cases this year just months after experiencing a harsh winter wave driven by the Omicron variant. Increases in cases have coincided with the spread of BA.2, a sub-type of the Omicron variant that spreads faster than other types. It is also sometimes referred to as “Stealth Omicron” since it is detected differently to the previously dominant Omicron type.

An estimated 4.1 million or 1 in 13 people in the UK had COVID in the week ending March 26, according to the country’s Office of National Statistics earlier on Friday.

In contrast, reported US cases remain relatively low following a huge spike in cases over winter that peaked at more than 800,000 new cases per day in mid-January. On March 30, the seven-day moving average of new cases was 25,732, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data — although BA.2 is spreading in the country.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson on Wednesday went so far as to announce “an end to the COVID-19 crisis” in the state, which they said would be “shifting to an endemic phase.”

“We don’t know if this virus will ever completely go away, but we do know that there is no longer a need to live in crisis mode and that we can shift our response to meet the current needs of Missourians,” Parson said in a press release.

His comments were in contrast to those from Vallance, who on Thursday went on to stress that the world needed to “be ready to respond” to a new pandemic and highlighted the 100 Days Mission — getting the world to a state of preparedness that would allow it to produce a new vaccine within 100 days of identifying a new virus or other pathogen. It was a goal set out at the G7 political summit in 2021.

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