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Next Covid variant can emerge in 2 ways, experts don’t think it will be mild

As Omicron and its subvariants continue to scare us, scientists are constantly trying to decipher what comes next. And a recent study has shown that the next COVID variant can emerge in 2 different ways. Also, there is no guarantee that the new variant will be less severe than the previously identified ones, they pointed out.  

Omicron won’t be the final variant of concern. There are two likely scenarios going forward, says Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, as quoted by scientific journal Nature. 

How will the next variant emerge? 

  • First, Omicron continues to evolve, creating some sort of Omicron-plus variant that is worse than BA. 1 or BA.2.
  • The second possibility is that a new, unrelated variant appears.

The latter scenario is what’s happened with each variant of concern so far. “It suggests that there’s a huge amount of plasticity in the virus,” says Lucy Thorne, a virologist at University College London. “It’s got different evolutionary options.”

How severe will the next variant be? 

Regarding severity, Michael Chan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong said, “there’s no guarantee that it will continue to diminish.”

Scientists also suggest that the virus has changed significantly. Now it enters the cell differently and affects the nose and the lungs differently. 

How far the virus has spread?

Another area that the scientists are exploring is how far the virus has spread. “We have to address the elephant in the room, quite literally: where else has the virus gone, and what is it doing in those species?” says Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, who is part of a team tackling this question.

Coronavirus is known to infect several animal species, including mink, deer and hamsters. Some scientists think that Omicron could have passed through an animal host or hosts before it was first detected in South Africa last November, the article published in Nature suggested. 

Previously, WHO also pointed out that all other coronavirus variants, including alpha, beta and delta, continue to decline globally as omicron crowds them out. Meanwhile, the subvariant BA.2 appears to be “steadily increasing” and its prevalence has risen in South Africa, Denmark, the UK and other countries.

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