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Omicron sub-variant BA.2 spreading across U.S. as COVID cases rise in parts of Europe and China

BA.2 is about 30% more transmissible than Omicron, but it does not appear to be more severe.
Researchers expect the BA.2 version of the omicron variant to rapidly spread.
Researchers expect the BA.2 version of the omicron variant to rapidly spread.(MGN)
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 9:32 AM EDT
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(CBS News) - Just as Americans start taking off their masks, the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 is quickly spreading across the United States, making up nearly a quarter of new COVID-19 infections, health officials estimate.

BA.2 is about 30% more transmissible than Omicron, but it does not appear to be more severe. And despite the spread of the new sub-variant, U.S. daily cases and hospitalizations continue to drop while deaths plateau.

“We’ve been watching it closely, of course,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday. “We expect some fluctuation, especially at this relatively low level, and, certainly, that to increase.”

In the U.K., meanwhile, cases were up about 52% in the last week and hospitalizations were up 18%, almost three weeks after the country dropped its last remaining COVID-19 mandates.

Related: Mecklenburg County identifies two cases of ‘stealth omicron’ variant of COVID-19

In China, COVID infections are rising fast, with daily cases jumping about 14% in the last few days. China’s less effective COVID vaccine and low levels of natural immunity — due in part to severe lockdowns — have complicated the country’s efforts to stop the spread of BA.2.

Andy Slavitt, former White House senior adviser for the Biden administration, said Americans should not be too concerned by the new sub-variant yet.

“When there are waves again, the best thing you could do for your family is to get vaccinated and get boosted,” he told CBS News correspondent Nikki Battiste. “The second thing I’d say is that when COVID is going around again, it is OK to wear masks even if they’re not required by authorities.”

The White House says cuts to COVID funding in Congress could hit Americans as early as next week. Medical providers will no longer be able to submit claims for COVID treatments, tests or vaccinations for the uninsured, and the U.S. may not have enough funding to purchase additional boosters.

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