Wastewater samples from Berlin showed that the new Omicron subtype is more prevalent in Germany. According to scientist Christian Drosten, there are indications that the new subtype is easier to transport: “The engine already has a small number of horsepower.”
The coronavirus mutates all the time. After alpha came beta, then gamma, until we came to the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet and the thirteenth variant: omicron. Two subtypes of these mutations are known to date, namely BA.1 and BA.2. In Germany, the first subtype is still dominant – in Denmark, already BA.2. However, Berlin wastewater studies have shown that the subtype prevalent in Germany can soon be replaced by BA.2. It is concerning because the Omicron variant could have what is called a fitness advantage.
Researchers from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine took samples in collaboration with waterworks in Berlin. They came to the conclusion that the number of the new subtype has increased rapidly in recent weeks. “In early January, the percentage was barely visible, but already on January 13, BA.2 was about six percent and on January 19 it was about twelve percent. So it’s growing fast,” Max Delbrück Center said in a press release. The two species are further said to differ in about 20 mutations.
Increased transmission of the virus in unvaccinated individuals
The first data from research in Denmark indicate that the new subtype is more contagious than BA.1. Virologist Christian Drosten discusses in NDR Podcast Coronavirus Update Preliminary transcript data for Denmark. The risk of infection increases significantly, as does transmission of the virus from unvaccinated people. This was not observed in vaccinated persons. The scientist from Berlin Charité compares the two subtypes with a metaphor for two cars: “The engine has very little horsepower,” says Drosten of the BA.2 subtype.
Professor Markus Landthaler, a molecular biologist at the Max Delbrück Center, says: Data from the United Kingdom and Denmark indicate that the proportion of Omicron variant BA.2 in Germany will continue to increase.
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