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America facing double whammy: Omicron variants' spread & fuel prices' unrelenting rise

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By Ashok Nilakantan
New York, June 13 (Ajit Weekly News) The United States is facing a double whammy — Covid 19s sub-variants B4, BA5 have hit the country as predicted by scientists with 100,000 new coronavirus cases being registered each day. Fuel prices are ascending every day to anything between $5 to $5.99 a gallon showing no signs of even a marginal slide.

The popular retailers Shell and Exxon are unable to drop prices as shortage of crude due to the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war showing no immediate signs of a truce.

One can see many automobiles pulling up near a gas station to see the prices of normal, unleaded and premium – only a different of cents between the three— rising at $4.99 to a record $5.99 and sometimes $6 per gallon (3.3 litres make a gallon) and the mood swings, “Ah shucks, let’s wait until tomorrow, prices may drop”, the motorists seem to be saying hauling up to the highway again. But such hopes are mercilessly belied as prices either remain constant or have jumped up further.

With sanctions on Russia and Iran, the world’s two great suppliers of crude, there is acute shortage of oil in the world and mid-eastern nations coming under the OPEC cartel not wanting to step up production to meet shortages for fear of falling prices, they have struck it rich at a constant $ 100 dollars a barrel.

Now for the second whammy — Omicron subvariants BA.4, BA.5 start spreading in the US.

The two new subvariants are showing signs that they could become the dominant strains circulating as the USaverages more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases each day. Alarming indeed. In India too, especially Maharashtra, the hotbed of coronavirus infections, cases are rising, apparently the Omicron variants as in the US.

As per the WHO dashboard, United States and India top the list of infections, recoveries and deaths due to Covid 19 since 2021. At the last count, the United States reported infections at close to five million with now fewer than five lakh deaths and in India it was around 4.2 million infections with over 4 lakh deaths.

According to widely published US media reports, just weeks after a new omicron subvariant took over as the dominant strain circulating in the US, two other subvariants have entered the scene and are quickly spreading.

BA.4 and BA.5, which were first identified in South Africa, were responsible for 13% of coronavirus cases in the U.S. last week, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. It’s a significant jump from the beginning of May, when the strains made up about 1% of infections.

Until this weekend, uncertainty loomed over whether BA4 and BA5 would overtake the current dominant variants, according to Alexandre Bolze of Helix, a company tracking coronavirus variants. Bolze claims that he expects A4 and BA5 to become the dominant strains now.

The rise of BA.4 and BA.5 could lead to an uptick in infections or, at the very least, a longer plateau for the latest coronavirus wave, feel health care specialists in the US. The US is currently averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases each day, believed to be far below the real count. That’s up from an average of nearly 30,000 new daily cases two months ago.

“I think we could expect an increase in cases, but we shouldn’t see an increase in hospitalizations compared to the current situation,” Bolze says.

Still, it’s a reminder that while many Americans have mentally moved on from the coronavirus, the US is still under threat from new variants that can quickly change the outlook of the pandemic.

Where did BA.4 and BA.5 come from?

The pair of omicron subvariants were first reported in South Africa earlier this year when they fuelled a coronavirus surge there. Leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci recently said that the subvariants led to “a slight uptick in hospitalizations, but [intensive care unit] utilization and deaths are really staying stably low” in the country.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation recently reported that the BA.4 and BA.5 surge in South Africa has peaked and is declining. BA.4 and BA.5, however, are increasing globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Still, “accumulating evidence from several countries indicates that there has been no observed increase in severity associated with BA.5 and BA.4,” it reported this week.

The United Kingdom Health Security Agency noted in a recent report that BA.4 and BA.5 likely have a growth advantage over BA.2, or “stealth omicron.”

It found that “in many countries, the rate of replacement of BA.4 and BA.5 over BA.2 are comparable to the rate at which BA.2 replaced” the original omicron strain. However, it is growing more difficult to extrapolate surge predictions from other countries, according to Inglesby.

–Ajit Weekly News
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