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Three lineages (BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3) of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant of concern predominantly drove South Africa's fourth COVID-19 wave. We have now identified two new lineages, BA.4 and BA.5, responsible for a fifth wave of infections. The spike proteins of BA.4 and BA.5 are identical, and comparable to BA.2 except for the addition of 69-70del (present in the Alpha variant and the BA.1 lineage), L452R (present in the Delta variant), F486V and the wild type amino acid at Q493.The two lineages only differ outside of the spike region. The 69-70 deletion in spike allows these lineages to be identified by the proxy marker of S-gene target failure, on the background of variants not possessing this feature . BA.4 and BA.5 have rapidly replaced BA.2, reaching more than 50% of sequenced cases in South Africa by the first week of April 2022. Using a multinomial logistic regression model, we estimate growth advantages for BA.4 and BA.5 of 0.08 (95% CI: 0.08 - 0.09) and 0.10 (95% CI: 0.09 - 0.11) per day respectively over BA.2 in South Africa. The continued discovery of genetically diverse Omicron lineages points to the hypothesis that a discrete reservoir, such as human chronic infections and/or animal hosts, is potentially contributing to further evolution and dispersal of the virus.

Original publication

DOI

10.1038/s41591-022-01911-2

Type

Journal article

Journal

Nature medicine

Publication Date

27/06/2022

Addresses

Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI), School of Data Science and Computational Thinking, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Keywords

NGS-SA consortium