An Omicron subvariant of COVID0-19 that can evade vaccine immunity is on the rise in Victoria, with health officials warning it is set to be the state’s main strain in line with the spread of the virus in NSW and Queensland.
Traces of the BA.4/BA.5 strain in Victoria’s underground and regional sewage “have increased significantly in recent weeks, indicating increasing transmission of this sub-lineage in the community”, the director of Victoria’s health, Brett Sutton, in a statement. .
Mr Sutton said the BA.4/BA.5 sublineage – first identified in catchments in April – accounted for 17% of Victorian infections and is expected in coming weeks to surpass BA.2 to become the dominant strain of the state.
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He said the stump’s lifting figures in Victoria followed similar patterns in New South Wales and Queensland.
“The Department of Health anticipates that the prevalence of BA.4/BA.5 in Victoria is likely to lead to an increase in cases, including re-infections and hospital admissions,” he said.
“This is because the strain has a greater ability than BA.2 to evade immunity provided by vaccination and prior COVID-19 infection.”
There was no evidence at this point that the subvariant causes more severe illness, but authorities were “monitoring the situation closely.”
Medical experts this week renewed calls for people to get their boosters following rising infections and hospitalizations as new subvariants emerge over the winter.
On Saturday, more than 28,000 new cases and 56 deaths were recorded across the country during the last reporting period. There were nearly 225,000 active cases across the country, with 3,046 hospitalized patients.
As the number of cases rises, doctors have urged people with symptoms to stay home and get tested, especially following the relaxation of vaccination and mask mandates in some parts of the country.
Several states have begun to lift restrictions, including allowing unvaccinated school personnel to return to work, lifting bans on unvaccinated visitors to nursing homes or easing mask requirements at airports.
“We’ve seen too many people with symptoms walking around the community who may have had a negative (rapid antigen test) saying, ‘Oh, that’s not COVID, that’s not the flu. I’m okay with being with people,” Australian Medical Association Queensland president Maria Boultan said on Saturday.