A health care worker prepared to take a swab sample from a client at a coronavirus testing site ran by Terveystalo in Otaniemi, Espoo, on 5 January 2022. BA.5, the latest omicron sub-variant to have found its way to Finland, can be detected from an ordinary PCR test. (Roni Rekomaa – Lehtikuva)

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THE BA.5 SUB-VARIANT of the omicron variant is becoming more and more common in the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS), reports Helsingin Sanomat.

Lasse Lehtonen, the director of diagnostic services at HUS, on Wednesday revealed to the newspaper that infections caused by the sub-variant have doubled on a weekly basis in the past couple of weeks, voicing his concern that a new wave of infections could be witnessed before the autumn.

“Since mid-May, its share has begun to increase clearly and the development is indicative of a clear upward trend,” he commented.

The sub-variant can be detected directly from an ordinary polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. It is believed to have caused around eight per cent of the infections detected in the district last week. Lehtonen expects BA.5 to take over as the dominant variant across the country in a couple of months.

“Unfortunately it does look like it’ll happen,” he said.

The development is concerning especially because the immunity provided by vaccinations is on the wane. People at high risk of severe forms of the coronavirus disease, he advised, should continue to protect themselves against the sub-variant with high-quality face masks.

“Once four to six months has passed since vaccination, risk groups would be advised to wear an FFP2 mask. It’s a fairly easy measure to take if you’re at risk of the severe coronavirus disease.”

Mika Salminen, the head of health security at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), reminded that the new sub-variant has not changed the big picture of the pandemic. New variants have tended to pop up every six months or so and thus far the latest sub-variant appears not to be any more dangerous than previous mutations of the omicron.

“We as a society have to get used to variants popping up and causing possible new infection waves,” he said.

“Vaccines seem to protect against severe forms of the disease just as well as they’ve when it comes to other sub-variants,” he added, highlighting that health care systems can rely on more know-how and new drugs when treating the coronavirus disease.

Finland recorded its first case of the BA.5 sub-variant a couple of weeks ago in Turku.

THL estimated earlier that a new wave of coronavirus infections is likely to occur by the autumn or winter. Salminen on Wednesday told Helsingin Sanomat that it remains premature to tell whether the wave will occur earlier because of the new sub-variant and whether it will differ in any ways from previous waves.

“The fact is that infection numbers have been on the decline here, and also the number of patients in hospital and intensive care have decreased markedly.”

Over 485 people were in hospital care, including 16 in intensive care, in Finland last Thursday. The number of new infections reported in the previous seven days stood at nearly 11,000. Also the number of coronavirus-related deaths has been on the decline for several weeks.

“In the summer, the conditions for spreading are worse. Let’s hope for as warm and sunny a summer as possible.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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