New Variants: BA.5 & BA4: What You Should Know

Now that we are in the third year of a global pandemic, it has become evident that the world seems to be following a cycle. Covid cases are increasing in Europe due to new covid-19 variants (BA.4 and BA.5), and North America has been following suit, swiftly. 

With mandates lifted and most communities heading back to pre-pandemic practices, it's important that we stay on top of the latest information available to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Is it really time to let our guard down when it comes to masking up and social distancing? And are there new covid-19 variants on the rise? If so, what do we know about them?

CASES RISING IN EUROPE

Two emerging Omicron variants have caused top scientists in the UK to warn their citizens that a new wave has arrived. The following week after the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the UK experienced an estimated 75% increase in covid cases believed to be driven by the emerging BA.4 and BA.5 covid variants. At the beginning of June, there were 990,000 reported covid cases and in the week following (ending June 11th, the week following the Jubilee), this number had increased to 1.4 million in the UK. Following that, estimates from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics reported that 1,739,700 individuals tested positive for the virus in the week of June 18th. As we can see, the climb is continuous and steady in the UK.

A member of the Indie Sage scientists collective, Dr. Duncan Robertson, stated, “The pressure on the health system in terms of beds that are occupied is increasing," and his statement is a result of the 8.2% increase in covid hospitalizations over the span of 7 days (stated on the week of June 24th). These numbers continue to rise alongside individual infections across England's communities.

As with previous years, what the UK and Europe experience usually trickle over to the US and Canada within a short timeframe and, as anticipated, both countries are now experiencing a higher number of covid cases that is ever-increasing, with the BA.5 seemingly becoming the dominant variant.

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NEW VARIANTS: BA.4 & BA.5: WHAT DO WE KNOW?

We know that the new covid variants, BA.4 and BA.5, are descendants of the Omicron variant. It has been noted as more contagious than its predecessors with the ability to bypass past infection or vaccination. This means that natural immunity is not a defence against these new covid variants and that those who had Omicron earlier in the year can be reinfected. Vaccination can also be considered less effective against the Omicron variants, so it's important to get boosted if eligible.

As a quick refresher, the Alpha variant was roughly 1.5 more transmissible than earlier covid-19 variants (such as the strand that originated in Wuhan). According to the BMJ, it is also 1.6 times more deadly than these previous strands. The Delta variant seemed to be the result of the UK's third wave in the fall of 2021 and was reported to be more lethal, as well as resulting in a higher number of hospitalizations and healthcare needs. Omicron was more transmissible than all previous variants with a risk of infection that was 5.4 times greater than the Delta variant. And although milder than its predecessors, it still results in severe infections and death and is responsible for the largest surge since 2019.

The BA.4 and BA.5 were first identified in South Africa in the beginning of 2022 and have spread to Denmark, Portugal, UK and United States, becoming the dominant variants in these locations. They seem to have more in common with the earlier, more dangerous, Delta variants as they lead to infection of the lung cells, according to preliminary data from Kei Sato at the University of Tokyo and colleagues.

Top health experts in both the US and across the globe, have determined that the Omicron BA.5 variant can reinfect people who already have protection against the virus through vaccination or immunity. The BA.5 seems to be the leading strand, becoming the dominant variant in the US.

Chief Health Officer of Western Australia, Andrew Robertson, stated (to www.news.com.au) that he is seeing individuals getting reinfected with the virus in a matter of weeks. "What we are seeing is an increasing number of people who have been infected with BA2 and then becoming infected (again) after four weeks," he said. "So maybe six to eight weeks (later) they are developing a second infection, and that's almost certainly either BA.4 or BA.5."

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN ONTARIO & CANADA?

It has now been determined that Ontario is now in its 7th wave of the covid-19 pandemic, with positive covid cases increasing to 13.5%, the highest percentage since May of 2022. A total of 33 deaths related to covid-19 have been reported in the last week (currently writing on July 8th), and hospitals are seeing a steady increase in hospitalizations and admissions to the ICU due to the virus.

Currently, 712 people have been reported in the hospital with the virus, which was 585, seven days prior. In addition, 110 patients are present in the ICU due to COVID-19-related symptoms (in the province of Ontario).

"Sadly yes, we're in another wave," the province's chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, told CBC News in this article. She also noted that an estimated 60% of cases are related to the BA.5, making this variant the dominant variant of the province.

HOW DO WE STAY AHEAD OF THE WAVE?

With the spreading of these new variants and more individuals feeling relaxed with their protective measures, top health officials are recommending we mask up in indoor and crowded environments, stay up to date with our vaccinations and practice social distancing where we can.

Here at PPE Supply Canada, we always try to stay abreast of the most up-to-date information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. With this, we notice when buying trends start to develop and in the past few weeks, we've seen an extreme uptick in KN95/N95 mask purchases as well as rapid antigen test kit orders from both our everyday consumers and wholesale clients. We can see that Canadians are keeping their guards up and staying ahead of any surges by masking up with high levels of protection and equipping themselves with Health-Canada-approved rapid antigen test kits.

We offer both the BTNX Rapid Antigen Test Kits (Pack of 5) in addition to the ECOTEST Rapid Antigen Test Kit (Individually Packaged). Both are authorized by Health Canada and are great options for large and small households as well as individuals. We strongly recommend you keep them on hand at all times, but especially while travelling. With covid cases continuously rising due to these evolving variants, you'll want always to feel confident in the status of your health as well as your loved ones.

Although mandates have been lifted in Canada, it's important to keep in mind that these tools are what keep us protected from these ever-evolving variants. As BA.5 attacks the lungs (making it more serious than previous variants that focused on the respiratory system), we want to ensure that we are filtering the air we breathe and expel, in order to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe. As mentioned, many Canadians have now let their guard down due to mandates lifting, and when we aren't actively participating in personal protective measures, further transmission of these variants can be the result.

Our Individually Sealed KN95 Mask is Canada's favourite mask, trusted by all with over 5 million units sold! Tested and certified in North America with a minimum filtration rate of 95%, these masks are the perfect go-to for the everyday. These offer the exceptional protection you need, without compromising comfort or breathability, and the individual seal works great for businesses, families, teams or groups. The Individually Sealed KN95 Mask is the superior choice to equip ourselves with while preparing for and navigating the 7th wave of the COVID-19 virus.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

With the newest data available, let's keep our guards up, Canada! Masking up with an N95/KN95 mask (recommended by top health officials) is important at this time, regardless of the mandates, as it has become clear new variants that can surpass previously effective barriers (i.e., immunity and vaccinations) are on the rise and spreading quickly. The more often and frequently we can add an additional layer of protection, the better for our communities. Staying on top of our test results, especially while travelling or visiting the elderly and immunocompromised, helps to ensure that we are aware of our health status and keep each other safe.

Please note that this information is current as of July 8th, 2022. We kindly encourage you to stay up to date with the latest news and announcements from reliable, established sources.

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