What is ‘Omicron-like’, the sub-variant identified in Queensland?

Brisbane has seen one of the first cases in the world of a new “lineage” of the Omicron variant, which is being referred to as “Omicron-like”.

The new sub-variant strain of SARS-CoV-2 has been identified only in the past few days in a handful of places around the world, but experts say it does not change what we know about the virus or how we respond to it.

Queensland Acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken said the new sub-variant is not a cause for concern.

Queensland Acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken said the new sub-variant is not a cause for concern.Credit:Matt Dennien

The variant was detected in a man who returned from South Africa, with authorities over the weekend saying he definitely did not have the Delta variant, but they could not say with certainty that he had Omicron.

Queensland acting Chief Health Officer Peter Aitken explained that the man instead has a different version of Omicron that is similar enough to still be classified in the same variant group but different enough to confuse scientists initially.

“This is amazing work from our scientific teams – they’ve picked up the differences here, worked through it in a methodical and scientific approach, recognised there are differences between the full and normal Omicron classification, passed that on to the international committee in a really quick timeframe, and it’s now led to a reclassification of Omicron,” Dr Aitken said.

The Omicron variant has around 30 mutations in its spike protein compared with the original Wuhan strain of SARS-CoV-2, while the “Omicron-like” variant has 14.

“So it’s got enough to be able to classify it as Omicron, but we don’t know enough about it as to what that means as far as clinical severity or vaccine effectiveness,” Dr Aitken said.

University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay said it was still too early to say how different either Omicron or “Omicron-like” would be from other strains of the virus or each other.

“We just don’t know what those mutations do yet for either sub-lineage or for Omicron as a whole,” Professor Mackay said.


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