WHO: 2 new Omicron subvariants cause COVID-19 spike in South Africa

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 5) — Two new Omicron sub-variants are causing a spike in COVID-19 cases in South Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

In a media briefing, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the South African scientists who first identified Omicron are pointing to two other Omicron subvariants, the BA.4 and BA.5, to be "the reason for a spike in cases" in the country.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant, which was discovered in South Africa in November 2021, quickly spread across the globe and has now become the most dominant variant, accounting for most of the newly recorded cases.

Ghebreyesus said "it's too soon to know" if BA.4 and BA.5 can cause more severe disease than other Omicron subvariants.

The WHO chief also reiterated the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, stressing that inoculation remains the best way to save lives and minimize cases of long COVID-19.

He also stressed that testing and sequencing remain “absolutely critical” to detect infections.

"The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants were identified because South Africa is still doing the vital genetic sequencing that many other countries have stopped doing," Ghebreyesus said.

"In many countries, we’re essentially blind to how the virus is mutating. We don’t know what’s coming next," he added.

Recently, the Philippines detected its first case of BA.2.12, a sublineage of Omicron.

According to the Department of Health, the case involved a 52-year-old female traveler who arrived from Finland on April 2. The DOH said there is still no evidence that the sublineages of Omicron can cause severe infection.