Mumbai: For the first time in Maharashtra, seven cases of Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have been detected in Pune City. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) conducted by the state public health department in coordination with the B J Medical College, Pune, has revealed that four of the seven cases were BA.4 while the remaining three were BA.5, said the state public health department.
“The new variant has been identified in WGS carried out by the Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) and has been confirmed by the Indian Biological Data Centre (IBDC), Faridabad. BA.4 and BA.5 are subvariants of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus. BA.4 and BA.5 are of the Omicron sublineage, which increases the rate of transmission of the virus to a certain extent, according to international experience,” said the public health department.
According to the public health department, all seven patients were from Pune City and the cases were detected between May 4 and 18, 2022. Four of the patients were male and three were female; four of them were aged 50-plus, two in the 20-40 age group while one was a child less than 10 years of age.
Two of the patients had a history of travel to South Africa and Belagavi, three had travelled to Kerala and Karnataka while two had no travel history.
All but the nine-year-old are fully vaccinated, with one of them also having taken a booster shot. All of them were mildly symptomatic but did not need hospitalization and were treated successfully in home isolation.
State Surveillance Officer Dr Pradip Awate told The Free Press Journal, “This is not, as such, a new variant. International experience shows there is a slight increase in transmission but not in the severity of the disease. We are monitoring the situation. WGS is the tool that will help in future planning.”
Saturday’s development came days after the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) confirmed that the two Omicron subvariants - BA.4 and BA.5 - have been detected in India. While two cases of BA.4 were detected in Tamil Nadu and Telangana, BA.5 too has been detected in Telangana.
According to INSACOG, BA.4 and BA.5 are subvariants of the Omicron variant circulating globally. These were reported first from South Africa earlier this year and are now being reported from several other countries. These variants have not been associated with increased severity of disease or increased hospitalization.
In a statement released on May 10, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, “The BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants driving up deaths and hospitalizations in places with high immunity is a warning that the global response needs to get ahead of future Variants of Concern (VOC).”
Further, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control had, last week, designated the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants as VOC. The European health agency further added that the subvariants could fuel increases in infections, with a 12 to 13 per cent growth advantage over the BA.2 sublineage.
Meanwhile, the state reported 529 new cases, with zero deaths. There are 2,772 active cases in Maharashtra.