GENEVA (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - The BA.2 variant of the Omicron coronavirus strain is not more severe than the original, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday (Feb 22).
Based on a sample of people from various countries, "we are not seeing a difference in severity of BA.1 compared to BA.2," Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, a senior WHO official, said in an online question and answer session.
"So this is a similar level of severity as it relates to risk of hospitalisation. And this is really important, because in many countries they've had a substantial amount of circulation, both of BA.1 and BA.2," she said.
Dr Van Kerkhove, who leads the technical side of the WHO's Covid-19 response team, was reporting the findings of a committee of experts tracking the evolution of the virus.
The WHO said in a statement that initial data suggests the new BA2 variant "appears inherently more transmissible than BA.1", and that further studies are ongoing to discover why this is the case.
"However the global circulation of all variants is reportedly declining," it added.
Their conclusions will come as a relief to countries such as Denmark, where the BA.2 variant of Omicron has circulated widely.
A Denmark study suggests that in rare cases people can be infected by the virus variant twice.
Samples from 1.8 million positive tests showed that 47 people had both the BA.1, and the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron with a 20 to 60 day interval, Denmark's institute for infectious diseases said in a statement on Tuesday.
Those who had both variants were predominately young and unvaccinated and they only suffered mild symptoms, according to the data, which hasn't yet been peer reviewed.
Another 20 people have likely been infected with the same Omicron variant twice.
Denmark, a country of 5.8 million people has registered more than 2.6 million infections with most recorded after the BA.2 variant became dominant in the beginning of the year.
The country lifted all restrictions and declared that Covid-19 was no longer a threat to society on Feb 1.
Coronavirus has killed more than 5.8 million people worldwide, according to an AFP tally compiled from official sources on Tuesday.
Taking into account excess mortality linked to Covid-19, the WHO estimates the true death toll could be two to three times higher.