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WHO Expert Says New Omicron Subvariant Likely to Become Common


People wearing protective face masks enjoy a stroll along a skywalk bridge as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb.y 7, 2022.

One of the World Health Organization’s top COVID-19 experts says she expects an even more contagious omicron subvariant to become increasingly common around the world.

During an online question-and-answer session on the pandemic Tuesday, WHO's COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkove said while there are no indications that symptoms of the BA.2 subvariant are any more severe than those caused by omicron, the research is ongoing.

Omicron generally does not make people as sick as the alpha and delta variants, though it does spread faster, scientists say.

During the online session, Van Kerkhove said last week’s report that COVID-19 deaths rose for the fifth week in a row globally, reaching 500,000 fatalities, is currently her foremost concern.

Meanwhile, nations in Europe continue to lift COVID-19 restrictions. Poland’s Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference Wednesday if case numbers continue to drop, the country will lift most COVID-19 measures next month. He also told reporters he believes “we are dealing with the beginning of the end of the pandemic.”

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of Parliament Wednesday that later this month, he intends to end the legal obligation for people in the country to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19.

The requirement is currently due to lapse March 24, but Johnson said if current positive trends continue, he will end the requirement a month early.

And in Sweden, health officials said the government has halted wide-scale testing for COVID-19 even among people showing symptoms of an infection, effective Wednesday.

In an interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT, Swedish Public Health Agency chief Karin Tegmark Wisell said, “We have reached a point where the cost and relevance of the testing is no longer justifiable.”

Starting Wednesday, only health care and elderly care workers and the most vulnerable will be entitled to free PCR testing if they are symptomatic, while the rest of the population will simply be asked to stay home if they show symptoms that could be COVID-19.

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