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The Public Health Agency of Canada said the new Omicron subvariant BA.2 has "many similarities" to BA.1, but does exhibit some differences, including in mutations that may affect transmissibility, detection and possibly immune escape.
Canada has found 51 cases of a new Omicron subvariant known as BA.2 mainly from international travelers, according to local media CTV on Wednesday.
BA.2 is a descendant of the highly transmissible Omicron variant and has been found in at least 40 countries as of Wednesday. It was first detected in November.
CTV quoted the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) as reporting that it is monitoring BA.2, as it does with all new COVID-19 variants.
"While the impact of all variants continues to be monitored in Canada, the Government of Canada knows that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual measures, is key to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants," PHAC said in a statement to CTV.
The Omicron variant, B.1.1.529, reportedly has four sub-lineages: BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2 and BA.3.
The BA.2 sub-lineage is widely considered "stealthier" than the original version of Omicron because some of its genetic traits make it harder to detect. Some scientists say it could also be more contagious. The quick spread of BA.2 in some places raises concerns it could take off.
BA.2 reportedly has lots of mutations. About 20 of them in the spike protein that studs the outside of the virus are shared with the original Omicron. But it also has additional genetic changes not seen in the initial version.
An initial analysis by scientists in Denmark shows no differences in hospitalizations for BA.2 compared with the original Omicron. Scientists there are still looking into this version's infectiousness and how well current vaccines work against it. It's also unclear how well treatments will work against it.
PHAC said the BA.2 has "many similarities" to BA.1, but does exhibit some differences, including in mutations that may affect transmissibility, detection and possibly immune escape.
"There is very limited evidence at present to determine how impactful the differences between BA.1 and BA.2 may be, hence the ongoing efforts by PHAC scientists to monitor cases here in Canada and track developments internationally," PHAC said in the statement.
Canada reported 10,410 new cases of the COVID-19 Wednesday noon, raising the cumulative total to 2,971,462 cases with 33,134 deaths, according to CTV.