An Omicron subvariant of COVID-19 that can evade vaccine immunity is on the rise in Victoria, with authorities warning it is on track to become the state’s leading strain in line with virus spread in NSW and Queensland.
Traces of BA.4/BA.5 in Victoria’s metro and regional wastewater have “risen significantly in recent weeks, indicating increasing transmission,” said Brett Sutton, Chief Health Officer.
First identified in watersheds in April, the so-called sub-lineage is responsible for 17 percent of Victorian infections and is expected to overtake BA.2 as the state’s dominant strain within weeks.
Professor Sutton says lifting figures follow similar patterns in NSW and Queensland.
“The Department of Health expects that the prevalence of BA.4/BA.5 in Victoria is likely to lead to an increase in cases, including reinfections and hospitalizations,” he said on Saturday.
“This is because the strain has a greater ability than BA.2 to evade the immunity afforded by vaccination and previous COVID-19 infection.”
There is no evidence at this stage that BA.4/BA.5 causes a more serious illness, but authorities are “closely monitoring” the situation.
Medical experts last week renewed calls for people to get boosters in the wake of rising infections and hospitalizations.
More than 45,000 new COVID-19 cases and 80 deaths have been registered nationwide this weekend, with Sunday data yet to come from South Australia and Western Australia.
There are more than 227,000 active cases across the country and nearly 3,100 patients in hospital care.
Despite the arrival of winter, vaccine and mask mandates are being relaxed in some parts of the country.
Several states have begun removing restrictions, including allowing unvaccinated school staff to return to work, lifting the ban on unvaccinated visitors to nursing homes, or relaxing mask requirements at airports.
Meanwhile, the number of people who have used Dine and Discover vouchers issued by the NSW government to boost financial recovery from the pandemic is surprisingly low, according to the state opposition.
Labor says customer service data shows that with just days to go until vouchers expire, only 58 percent have been spent statewide.
COVID-19 data from the last 24 hours:
NSW: 7461 cases, seven deaths, 1465 hospitalized with 48 in ICUs
Victoria: 5824 cases, 15 deaths, 451 in hospital, 28 in ICUs
Queensland: 3,048 cases, two deaths, 556 in hospital, eight in ICUs
ACT: 819 cases, no deaths, 116 in hospital, one in ICU
Tasmania: 777 cases, no deaths, 48 in hospital, three in ICUs
Northern Territory: 221 cases, no deaths, 16 hospitalized, none in ICUs