Immunity-evading Covid variant will trigger second wave - experts

Source: 1News

There’s growing concern that a new, more contagious immunity-evading Omicron subvariant will trigger a second wave of the pandemic, as Covid cases rise in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Experts are advising the public to be vigilant: the pandemic is far from over.

Australian authorities have warned a new peak is only months away.

“We've seen overseas there is a greater risk of reinfections. We are expecting a further wave of Covid over the coming months,” Australia's Health Minister, Mark Butler, said on Thursday.

Experts believe the rise is due to the newest Omicron subvariant, BA.5, pointing to two key ingredients that mark it as distinct from other strains which have led to a rise in case numbers overseas.

READ MORE: Highly likely new Covid variant will emerge in weeks or months - MoH

Australia’s leading epidemiologist, Catherine Bennett, says the new subvariant has mutated to better evade immunity, from both vaccination and previous infection.

“We are not talking about three months, six months, and then you might be vulnerable again – this is something where in a matter of weeks you could be vulnerable.”

Auckland University’s Covid-19 modeller Dr David Welch says BA.5 is also more contagious than previous strains.

“It does seem to have a growth advantage. The proportion of cases it makes up in New Zealand is sort of doubling every week.”

There were 6460 new Covid cases and 20 deaths reported on Saturday.

But what rings alarm bells, says Welch, is the seven-day rolling case average, which has risen for the first time since the March outbreak.

In the middle of May, BA.5 made up just 1% of New Zealand's Covid cases – now it’s 11%.

As BA.5 overtakes BA.2 as the dominant variant in the coming weeks, Welch says Covid cases are likely to increase as well, leading to a second wave of infections.

In Portugal and South Africa, the rise of BA.5 has seen hospitalisations increase, with health care staff struggling to keep up.

In Britain, new data released on Saturday revealed the number of new Covid cases surged by more than 30% in the last week due to BA.4 and BA.5, despite widespread immunisation.

With New Zealand's hospitals strained due to staff shortages and a surge in influenza and seasonal respiratory illness, Welch fears a similar wave could push the system to breaking point.

"Hospitals typically work at capacity so when you add a whole lot more sick people, the hospitals really start to struggle."