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There Are 2 (More) New Omicron Variants — Here's What's Up With BA.4 & BA.5

These sub-variants are more transmissible than BA.2, because of course they are.

Staff Writer
Person wearing a face mask near a mandatory hand sanitization sign.

Person wearing a face mask near a mandatory hand sanitization sign.

Masks may now be optional in most places in Quebec, but apparently, nobody told the pandemic that it's supposed to be over.

The presence of two new, more contagious sub-variants of Omicron, named BA.4 and BA.5, means that Montrealers are still at risk of contracting COVID-19. In fact, hospitalizations have been increasing in Quebec over the past several weeks, steadily reaching over 1,000 patients in need of care.

On July 5, Santé Québec reported 1,497 hospitalizations, which is 56 more than the previous day. Additionally, 13 deaths and over 300 active outbreaks were identified in the province.

Quebec public health (INSPQ) stated on Facebook that BA.4 and BA.5 are 1.2 times as transmissible as the variant behind the fifth and sixth waves: Omicron BA.2.

Health Canada indicated that BA.4 and BA.5 are being monitored since they have the potential to overtake the current dominant strains. They feature a key trait of their parent variant, Omicron — they are very “immune evasive,” meaning they are especially good at getting around the body’s immune responses.

This means that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be less effective protection against these sub-variants. They are more contagious than ever, less responsive to vaccines and emerging in a world with fewer public health measures — so nearly everyone is at risk of catching them.

More contagious doesn’t necessarily mean more harmful, though, as noted by the INSPQ – there is no evidence yet that BA.4 and BA.5 cause a more serious infection than BA.2 and other subvariants. In other words, they’re more likely to get you sick, but they won’t necessarily cause more severe symptoms than any other variant.

Still, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, explained in a public speech that “maintaining readiness for a potential resurgence that could result in severe impacts” is our best strategy. Health Canada advises that keeping up to date on vaccines and boosters will continue to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.

The subvariants’ contagiousness, combined with the easing of public health measures, means that we can expect to see further increases in hospitalizations, outbreaks and even deaths in the coming months. Masking on public transit may not be required, but it’s still what experts, including the Public Health Agency of Canada, recommend.

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