What is Centaurus, the new Covid Omicron subvariant BA.2.75?

The new Omicron variant BA.2.75 has been detected in India, UK, US, Australia, Germany and Canada.

Virologists have voiced concerns over the emergence of the new fast-spreading Omicron variant, which is rapidly gaining ground in India, and has now arrived in the UK.

The warning comes as MPs have called for redoubled efforts to persuade the 3 million adults in England who have not yet had a single dose of the Covid vaccine to take up the offer.

The BA.2.75 variant – nicknamed Centaurus – was first detected in India in May, and since then, cases in the UK have risen steeply.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Centaurus, the new Covid Omicron subvariant BA.2.75?

The BA.2.75 variant – nicknamed “Centaurus” – was first detected in India in early May, and it has since been detected in about 10 other countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Germany and Canada.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has designated it a “variant under monitoring” on 7 July, meaning there are indications that it could be more transmissible.

In addition to its apparent rapid growth and wide geographical spread, virologists have also been alerted to the sheer number of extra mutations BA.2.75 contains, relative to BA.2, from which the new strain is likely to have evolved.

De Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, said: “This could mean that it has had the chance to evolve an advantage over an already successful virus lineage.”

He also explained how the strain as another example of the virus’ impressive ability to tolerate changes in its spike protein – the part it uses to infect cells: “This time last year, many were convinced that Delta represented an evolutionary pinnacle for the virus, but the emergence of Omicron and the vast increase in variability and antibody evasiveness is a sign that we cannot as a population follow an influenza-like plan to keep pace with viral evolution.”

Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said: “It’s not so much the exact mutations, more the number/combination. It’s hard to predict the effect of that many mutations appearing together – it gives the virus a bit of a ‘wildcard’ property where the sum of the parts could be worse than the parts individually.

“It is definitely a potential candidate for what comes after BA.5. Failing that, it’s probably the sort of thing we’ll have come along next, ie a ‘variant of a variant’.

Peacock added. “It’s clearly growing pretty well in India, but India hasn’t got much BA.5, and it is still very unclear how well it fares against [that].”

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