A new subvariant, BA. 5, which has emerged from earlier versions of the Omicron variant, is expected to become dominant in Norway within the coming weeks.
“We expect a small wave,” Preben Aavitsland, Chief Physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), told news wite NTB.
“But we do not expect it to be as big as in February-April. That means that a few hundred thousand Norwegians will be infected, some for the second time,” he said.
The earlier, dominant forms of Omicron, BA. 1 and BA. 2, are thought to have infected between 2-3 million people in Norway, according to NIPH.
The spread of the new subvariant can be attributed in part to waning immunity in the community, according to Aavitsland.
The new variant has not so far shown evidence of causing more serious illness than previous forms of Omicron.
“It may appear that BA. 5 gives mild symptoms in a few more people than BA. 2 did, but so far we have no basis to think that hospital admissions will be higher,” Aavitsland told NTB.
New restrictions are not likely, the senior medical official said.
“It is very unlikely that we will recommend any measures other than a fourth (vaccine) dose for some groups. It is likely that those over 65 years old and risk groups will be recommended a fourth dose at some point,” he said.
The assistant director at the Norwegian Directorate of Health, Espen Nakstad, told NTB that BA. 5 is likely to become dominant across Europe this summer but also said that Norwegian restrictions were unlikely.
Currently, Norwegians are asked to stay at home if they have tested positive or suspect thay have Covid-19. That advice will remain in place while home testing could become more widespread, according to Nakstad.
“We have a poor insight into the extent of infections in Norway and Europe now but we can see from inpatient numbers that infections have increased a little in June,” he told NTB.
The number of people with Covid-19 at Norwegian hospitals has increased for three consecutive weeks and stood at 130 last week. That is a 67 percent increase over two weeks, but far lower than the 545 inpatients with Covid registered in late March.
“In the bigger picture, the virus will have greater and greater problems infecting many people because community immunity will increase through vaccination and previous infection. This also applies with the BA. 5 variant,” he said.