6 May 2022 13:27

Risk of import of new Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 into Russia exists - Rospotrebnadzor expert

MOSCOW. May 6 (Interfax) - No cases of the Omicron coronavirus variants BA.4 and BA.5, found in South Africa and Europe, have been recorded in Russia, but the risk of the import of these strains exists, Kamil Khafizov, the head of the scientific group for developing new methods of diagnostics using sequencing technologies of the Central Research Institute of Epidemiology of the Russian consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, told Interfax.

"The BA.4 and BA.5 variants are now broadly distributed in South Africa, and experts say they are the cause of the new increase in the sickness rate in the region. These Omicron variants have not been found in Russia yet, and the BA.2 line, including its subsidiaries, remains predominant. But it has to be said that the risk of import always exists, like it was with the previous strains," Khafizov said.

Speaking about the Omicron variant BA.2.12.1, which is called "New York" due to the high number of cases in New York, Khafizov said it is spreading in the United States rapidly and will probably become predominant there.

"Fortunately, there are currently no indications that it causes heavier forms of the disease than the other strains. Only several cases of the BA.2.12 variant have been recorded in Russia, but the difference between BA.2.12.1 is that the latter has an 'unpleasant' mutation L452Q, which was earlier recorded in several variants that cause concerns, such as Lambda, Delta and Epsilon. Besides, L452Q makes it possible to avoid the neutralizing effect of antibodies," the expert said.

Khafizov also said immunity developed after coronavirus or vaccination also protects against new variants of coronavirus, "but the more the new strain differs from the one that caused the illness or the vaccine strain, the less, as a rule, this protection is."

"Immunity against a specific pathogen also decreases over time, and the probability of reinfection increases," he said.

According to earlier media reports, citing experts, new variants of the Omicron coronavirus strain BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1, to which the World Health Organization gave attention due to high contagiousness, could cause a new increase in the Covid-19 sickness rate.

Virologists from the Leuven Catholic University said in April that the first case of a new Omicron coronavirus variant, called BA.4, had been found in Belgium. The Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 are present in South Africa, Botswana, Germany, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.