A medical expert advising the government on Covid-19 on Monday sought to allay concern after a highly contagious subvariant of Omicron was discovered in Hong Kong, saying even if it causes any outbreaks, it’s unlikely to lead to serious illnesses or deaths.
Lau Yu-long made the comment on an RTHK programme, after a woman who recently flew in from the US tested positive for the BA.2.12.1 subvariant after she completed her quarantine.
Health officials are also looking into whether three patients who visited a McDonald’s on the same day as her also carried the subvariant.
“I don’t think we need to worry about it too much. Most of the people who are out and about in the community are young. There are few elderlies. And, like I said, [the virus] can keep changing and it can infect me, but I’d have nothing more than a few sneezes and a little fever, rather than having serious illnesses or die,” Lau said.
He said even if the subvariant does find its way into the community, the number of new cases may go up to one or two thousand, but people need not worry about this figure too much.
“The most important thing is to look at the figures for serious illnesses, deaths and hospitalisation, and whether they will overwhelm the healthcare system,” Lau explained, adding he doesn’t think the subvariant will lead to a lot of cases with serious illnesses.
Lau noted that Hong Kong is moving closer to the end of the fifth wave of outbreaks, and said during this “honeymoon period” before another wave hits, the city should continue to boost the vaccination rate among the elderly.
University of Hong Kong virologist, Malik Peiris, echoed Lau’s view, saying people in the SAR don’t have to worry about the new Omicron sub-variant.
He told RTHK's Covid Update programme that the new variant is unlikely to pose a huge threat given that most people in Hong Kong have already been infected with Omicron.
“This subvariant is a close cousin of the BA2 virus that really was the main virus that caused the fifth wave in Hong Kong. So there are a couple of additional mutations, but it’s not hugely distant from the BA2 that Hong Kong has experienced,” he said.
“So, I don’t think that it’s likely to pose a huge threat given the fact that we expect that around 50, 60 percent – or maybe a bit more – of the Hong Kong population already has been infected with the BA2.”