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New Omicron Variant Accounting for More Than One-Third of Global Cases

The surge of the omicron subvariant, known as BA.2, provides a new layer to the debate about whether countries should fully reopen, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

New variant is more contagious: Evidence suggests BA.2 is up to 30% more infectious than the BA.1 omicron variant.

U.S. less affected than other countries: The new variant made up only 3.9% of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. through Feb. 12. Other countries have been hit significantly harder. In Denmark, BA.2 accounted for 92% of cases as of mid-February.

Same risk of severe illness: Studies indicate that both types of omicron variant pose about the same risk of severe disease. Omicron remains significantly more mild than last year’s delta variant. Vaccines are also performing equally well at preventing serious illness from the new omicron variant.

Reason for caution: World Health Organization officials warned that BA.2 is a reason for caution. The head of Japan’s doctors’ association recommended keeping some restrictions like closing restaurants early. Still, many countries are fully opening with the belief that vaccinations, boosters and infections have built up enough immunity. The U.K. is ending all COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday.

Effective public health measures remain consistent: “Scientists said the public-health measures to deal with omicron were generally the same regardless of its type—vaccination, booster shots, social distancing, masks, good ventilation and so on.”

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