Scientists alarmed after ‘stealth’ version of Omicron found in Queensland

·3-min read

Scientists are warning of a new Omicron Covid variant that could evade standard Covid tests, as Queensland records a case of Omicron that appears to have a different genetic structure. 

Being dubbed the 'stealth' variant, researchers say the new variant shares similarities to the standard Omicron variant but lacks a particular genetic change that allows it to be detected in standard Covid-19 tests, according to a report from The Guardian.

The news outlet said the variant can be detected as Omicron through genomic testing, although studies have found that it was not as easily detected by standard Covid tests.

Two people administering a Covid test in car.
Scientists have recently reported finding a new version of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Source: Reuters

A case of the new 'variant' was detected in Queensland on Wednesday, with Health Minister Yvette D'Ath telling reporters the case revealed a second "lineage" of the variant.

"That is the new lineage and name that will be given to this variant that has been identified and confirmed by the international committee," she said.

Acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken said the lineage has about half the genetic changes of the first Omicron variant.

"We now have Omicron and Omicron-like, it's a reminder to us all that as we open our borders this doesn't mean that the Covid journey has finished, in many ways the Covid journey is just starting," he said.

Mr Aitken said the variant doesn't have the "S-gene drop out" like the original Omicron variant, which according to The Guardian, makes it harder to detect through PCR tests.

Not all experts agree

Not all experts agree on the 'stealthiness' of the variant, saying the tests can detect Omicron but just can't tell right away if it is the variant.

"There is no new variant that isn't detectable by PCR," Dr Emma Hodcraft tweeted.

"A new set of sequences, closely related to #Omicron has been detected & we *absolutely can* detect cases with PCR. 

"What we can't tell as easily is /that they are Omicron or Omicron-like."

A person wearing blue gloves holding up a needle.
US experts say it's not looking as though Omicron is as severe as Delta. Source: AAP

In a press briefing on Tuesday (local time), the US's top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said Omicron is "almost certainly is not more severe than Delta."

"If one looks at the transmissibility, we have molecular evidence to suggest that the mutations that are seen in Omicron and in other variants would suggest that they are associated with increased infectivity," CNN reported.

NSW records spike in Covid cases

NSW has now recorded 31 known Omicron cases, while the state reported 403 Covid cases on Wednesday.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant predicted Omicron cases would rise in the coming days, with some likely linked to the cluster surrounding schools and a climbing gym in Sydney's west.

Cases of the Omicron variant have been reported in Australia, the US, UK, Asia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

Last week, Dr Nick Coatsworth suggested that the Omicron variant may be the preferable variant to spread over Delta, with most people that contract it reporting milder symptoms. 

"You want it to out-compete Delta and become the pro-dominant circulating virus ... it could be that we want Omicron to spread around the world as quickly as possible," Dr Coatsworth, a former federal deputy chief health officer, told the Today Show

"If this is milder than Delta, you actually want it to spread within your community."

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting