The Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are rapidly spreading around the world and the province confirms that they have both been discovered in Manitoba.
Provincial data suggests that transmission of COVID-19 is trending downward, but University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Dr Nazeem Muhajarine said that will likely change before September.
The county says both strains have turned up in Winnipeg’s wastewater, with BA.5 making up about 10 percent of the samples sequenced.
“The county aims to sample at least 10 percent or at least 100 samples per week,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
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These highly developed variants of concern are about six to eight times more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, Muhajarine told Global News on Wednesday.
“It has a whole host of tricks up its sleeve to disguise and evade immunity, whether that’s created or acquired through vaccines or by having the infection, with COVID-19,” Muhajarine said.
He warned that vaccination probably wouldn’t prevent people from getting infected, but it still appears to prevent serious consequences.
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Those infected with Omicron BA.1, the species that circulated around Christmas time, are unlikely to be protected from these newer species, Muhajarine said.
“People get re-infected over and over and those reinfections seem to be getting pretty close.”
In general, BA.4 and BA.5 cause milder symptoms, but because they are so transmissible, more people could end up in the hospital, he said.
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In general, he encouraged masking in crowded areas and indoors, especially for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
“We need to talk and think and prepare and do things that, you know, don’t make us end up in the hospital before, you know, in intensive care or dying of COVID 19 this summer.”
He said he hopes the provinces decide not only to expand the eligibility of boosters to the general public, but also to resume more widespread testing.
Provincial officials are monitoring the situation but are not currently making any changes to public health advice, the provincial spokesman said.
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