New Omicron sub-variant detected in Australia reignites immunity fears: 'Worse'

A new Omicron sub-variant detected in Australia is making waves around the world amid concerns it could be the most immune-evasive Covid strain seen yet.

BA.2.75, a sub-lineage of BA.2, has reportedly been nicknamed “centaurus” and was first discovered in India in June but has since spread to “about 10 other countries,” Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist, confirmed this week.

Aside from Australia, the variant has been detected in the US, UK, New Zealand, Canada, Germany and Japan, according to Ulrich Elling, PhD, a researcher at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Austria, who has shared his concerns about its rapid spread on Twitter.

A woman is seen wearing a face mask as she crosses Bourke Street in Melbourne during an Omicron wave. Source: AAP
Experts have shared their concerns about the possibly evasive Omicron sub-variant nicknamed 'centaurus'. Source: AAP

“Before we are done with the BA.5 wave we might already have to prepare for the next,” he wrote, referencing the current dominant Omicron strains — BA.4 and BA.5 — driving rising infections around the world.

“While the distribution across Indian regions as well as internationally, and the very rapid appearance, makes it likely we are dealing with a variant spreading fast and spread widely already,” he said.

A worrying fact about centaurus is that it has eight mutations which could enhance immune invasion, Dr Elling added.

Other experts agree.

“The basis for concern about the Omicron BA.2.75 variant. Eight mutations beyond BA.5, many in the N-terminal domain, which could make immune escape worse than what we’re seeing now,” Dr Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted.

Dr Swaminathan said although more data is needed, “this sub-variant seems to have a few mutations on the receptor binding domain of the spike protein”.

“So obviously that’s a key part of the virus that attaches itself to the human receptor so we have to watch that,” she said, adding that it’s too early to know if the strain has “additional immune invasion” or is more severe.

The WHO has listed BA.2.75 as a “variant of concern under monitoring”.

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