Health Minister, Dr. Culwick Togamana, has confirmed that the second wave of COVID-19 in Honiara is being driven by a new variant, identified as Omicron BA.2.

He says 37 samples were sent overseas for genome sequencing, and while 4 were confirmed to be Delta, 33 of these samples have now been confirmed to be the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron BA.2.

“I hereby officially announce to all of us, that genome sequencing has detected Omicron variant specifically its B2 sub-variant as the new variant that is in transmission in country and has been the cause for the 2nd wave of COVID-19 infection.

“There is evidence that the Omicron BA 2 variant was in circulation on April 6 and is now the primary driver of the COVID-19 situation in Honiara,” the Health Minister says.

Omicron was first identified in mid-November 2021. The World Health Organization (WHO) quickly classified Omicron as a variant of concern due to the large number of mutations it contains.

The Omicron variant has spread rapidly worldwide, and is now the major variant in many countries.

Omicron is said to be much more transmissible than previous variants of the COVID-19 virus, including Delta. Omicron, like other variants, continues to change and there are now two main sub-variants – BA.1 and BA.2. The BA.2 subvariant is more dominant in Australia, USA and New Zealand.

“More importantly for us is to note that this Omicron BA 2 is highly infectious more than its predecessor (the original Omicron) meaning it can spread very rapidly from one person to another.

“The BA.2 sub-variant is also more infectious than the BA.1 sub-variant and is contributing to the increase in the number of cases,” the Health Minister said.

Omicron has resulted in many more people being hospitalized, much more than at any other time during the pandemic.

He says this is not because Omicron is severe but because Omicron is highly infectious and can cause high numbers of infections over a short time period.

“Omicron can still cause severe illness and even death, especially in people who are at risk of severe outcomes, such as elderly and those with severe underlying health conditions.

“While many people can easily get infected with it, not many will be hospitalized or die from it. Many will return to negative, especially those vaccinated and recover from COVID-19 symptoms,” Health Minister Togamana said.

He says this is also consistent with cases presented at the National Referral Hospital where, as of today, only three cases needed oxygen.

He says the high transmission rate of Omicron BA.2 is due largely to the public not observing COVID-19 safe practices.