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The New BA.2.86 Virus Has Landed In Australia, Here Is What We Know

As Australians grapple with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, a new coronavirus variant known as “Pirola” has landed in the country.

This variant, officially designated as BA.2.86, is a highly mutating offspring of the Omicron variant and is contributing to the recent surge in cases.

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Pirola is notable for its more than 30 mutations, according to infectious diseases specialist Scott Roberts from Yale Medicine. 

Unlike previous shifts between variants, such as from Delta to Omicron, the significant mutations in Pirola have raised alarm bells among experts.

According to the British Medical Journal, Pirola appears to have evolved from the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which was widely circulating in early 2022. 

BA.2 was first discovered in Denmark in July 2023 and subsequently appeared in the US and Canada in August.

In Australia, one BA.2 case has been detected in a laboratory in Western Australia, according to genomic sequencing data.

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However, experts suggest that there could be more because only a fraction of all Covid-19 infections get submitted for testing.

WA’s health department said the case in Australia was “closely related – without significant differences to those BA2.strains reported from other countries”.

Andrew Pekosz, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University told The New York Times that: “It’s a concern that it’s increasing, but it doesn’t look like something that’s vastly different from what’s already been circulating in the US for the past three to four months.”

“So I think that’s what tempers my concern about this variant, at this point in time,” he said.

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