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'Not a scarient': New COVID-19 subvariant dominant in Canada

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A new COVID-19 subvariant is dominant in Canada, representing just over 30 per cent of cases in the country, but infectious disease experts say there’s no sign it’ll evolve into a summer “scarient.”

The new subvariant, KP.2, is not actually new, it’s a “soup” of mutations that have accumulated, Dr. Tyson Graber, an associate scientist at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, explained .

Omicron, the tidal wave variant that spread in late 2022, is the “parent” of KP.2, which will eventually displace JN.1, the dominant Omicron variant up until this point.

“When you look at the impact of each wave in the Omicron era, the impact has gotten progressively lower,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and scientist at Toronto’s University Health Network.

“Obviously, it's early and we have to be humble. But are there any new symptoms associated with this? Not that we know. Do we expect this to cause a massive wave of COVID? Probably not. Will it cause some COVID? Absolutely,” Bogoch said.

On social media – to the disdain of some in the science community – KP.2 is also being called the FLiRT variant, an abbreviation of letters that signify mutations in the spike protein.

While most data systems that once diligently tracked the spread of COVID-19 on a daily basis have been dismantled, national wastewater data indicates KP.2 surpassed JN.1 as the most common variant in Canada as of April 28. In the United States, KP.2 also represents almost 30 per cent of COVID-19 cases, the latest Centre for Disease and Prevention shows.

In Ontario, JN.1 is still the most common variant at just over 19 per cent, but KP.2 appears to be catching up, representing almost 11 per cent of cases.

Despite the growth, Graber said, “There is no clear evidence right now, or reason to believe it will have a serious overall impact.”

In other words, “it’s not a scarient,” he added. 

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