EU agency sees risk of COVID deaths rising as Omicron subvariants spread

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A vial and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed EU flag and words "Omicron SARS-CoV-2" in this illustration taken

By Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -Two new subvariants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, are spreading more quickly than other corovanirus variants in Europe, which could lead to more hospitalisations and deaths as they become dominant, the EU's disease prevention agency said on Monday.

Most EU countries have so far detected low rates of the two subgroups. But in countries where the proportion has risen - such as Portugal, where BA.5 accounted for 87% of cases by May 30 - there have been surges in overall cases, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said on Monday.

The two sublineages were added to the World Health Organization's monitoring list in March and have also been designated as variants of concern by the ECDC.

BA.4 and BA.5 do not appear to carry a higher risk of severe disease than other forms of Omicron. But an increase in case numbers from higher transmission rates risks leading to an increase in hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC said.

"The growth advantage reported for BA.4 and BA.5 suggest that these variants will become dominant," it said in a statement on its website.

In the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week BA.4 and BA.5 were estimated to make up nearly 5% and 8%, respectively, of coronavirus cases as of June 4.

(Reporting by Ludwig BurgerEditing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)

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