Covid BF 7 Variant: Before China Coronavirus spike, BF.7 Omicron variant found in 91 nations for up to 2 years | India News

PUNE: BF.7, the variant currently driving China’s Covid surge, is apparently a known irritant that has been in circulation for nearly two years, albeit sparsely and without causing much damage.
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According to data released by the Scripps Research Institute, 91 countries have had a variant matching the genetic make-up and mutation profile of BF.7 since February 2021. It was finally named BF.7 (also BA. and added to the BA.5 Omicron lineage in May 2022, said an Insacog scientist.

Virologists, epidemiologists and infectious diseases experts TOI spoke to said they couldn’t make sense of the renewed alarm over BF.7 given the fact that the variant’s prevalence in sequenced samples had remained 0.5% worldwide. The variant has been seen in only 47,881 sequenced patient samples worldwide since it was identified on February 26 last year, an Insacog official said.


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“Despite its presence in several countries over the last 22 months, BF.7 has not contributed significantly to Covid-19 cases, compared to other simultaneously circulating Omicron sub-lineages such as XBB and BQ.1.1. Cumulative prevalence rate of BF.7 worldwide has been 0.5%, which shows it has limited growth potential. So, the scaremongering is uncalled for,” said a virologist involved with Insacog’s genome sequencing programme.

Omicron’s BA.5 itself has low prevalence in India (currently less than 5%). The recombinant XBB is the dominant variant in the country, seen in over 73% of Covid-positive samples.
So, why has there been so much panic over BF.7? “The surge in China can be explained as BF.7 circulating in a largely susceptible population that has had low rates of Covid infection. We also have to consider limited effectiveness of the vaccines being used in China, their low coverage, coupled with the sudden opening up from the zero-Covid policy,” Dr Pujari said.

But there is a catch. “The larger concern is the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to evolve further, into a more immune evasive virus with the potential to cause severe illness among the vulnerable. The virus needs to be continuously monitored and preparedness plans need to be put in place,” he said.

Watch Covid sub-variant BF.7 is highly transmissible: Everything you need to know

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