Pirola and other Omicron variant Covid strains that could ruin Christmas

With Aussies planning their end of year holidays, there are concerns an eighth Covid wave could see cases soar due to Christmas travel.

There has been a significant increase in Covid-19 cases since August and 6605 new confirmed cases across the country over the past week. — representing a 20 per cent increase on the previous week.

The highest case numbers were in NSW (1911), Victoria (1407) and South Australia (1069).

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Vice President Dr Bruce Willett told the Daily Telegraph the increase in Covid-19 cases was “concerning”.

“Unfortunately, the virus has not gone away and we need to do what we can to protect ourselves and the people around us, especially older people and other people with who are at greater risk of death or severe illness from a Covid-19 infection,” Dr Willett said.

“Testing is still important and people who are sick should consider wearing a mask.
Vaccination is still our best defence against more dangerous outcomes due to an infection.”


There are a number of Covid strains floating around but the one that is considered most deadly is a variant dubbed Pirola.

The World Health Organisation designated Pirola as a “variant under monitoring” due to its number of mutations.

There are more than 30 mutations, especially in the spike region, meaning the membranes on the outside of the virus allowing it to enter and infect human cells will change shape.

“Having changed their shape, they may become more infectious, they may become more disease-causing,” Dr Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease control expert, told Sky News.

Immunologist Kristian Anderson wrote on Twitter that pirola has all the “hallmark features of something that could take off, however, our immunity landscape is now complex, so it’s too early to say it will”.

He concluded by saying “I think it might”.

It has been detected in 11 countries including Australia, the UK, the US, South Africa, Thailand, Japan, Switzerland and South Korea.

One case has been detected in Western Australia, genomic sequencing data shows.

A spokesman for WA’s health department told news.com.au: “PathWest has performed a genomic study of the BA. 2.86 strain and it is closely related – without significant differences – to those BA. 2.86 strains reported from other countries”.

The spokesman encouraged people to “stay vigilant” during this time due to the “large number of mutations” of Pirola.

Omicron sub variants

Two other variants to watch are closely related Omicron sub-variants that have been trading places as the most dominant variant worldwide since August.

EG.5 has a mutation that helps it evade antibodies the immune system created from either previous infections from earlier Covid strains, or from vaccines.

HV. 1 descended from EG.5, and its rapid rise to dominance as the most common strain indicates the development of a new mutation that either increased its transmissibility or ability to evade the immune system.

Both are descendants of the XBB variant, nicknamed the Kraken.

with Blake Antrobus

Originally published as Covid strains that could ruin Christmas plans

Cristeen Gonzama

Cristeen Gonzales writes about health and medicine. She tends toward stories that reveal the on-the-ground impact of health policy, with a particular focus on the opioid epidemic, Covid-19 and abortion.

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