Sydney, March 11: Covid-19 cases are expected to double in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) within weeks as the new Omicron BA.2 variant spreads, health authorities warned on Friday. The state health department reported 14,034 new cases of Covid-19 and seven deaths on Friday. There were 998 people in hospitals, slightly up from Thursday's 991, with 39 in intensive care, reports Xinhua news agency.

While the Omicron variant is still the dominant virus strain in NSW, the new BA.2 sub-variant could quickly overtake and cases could double within the next four to six weeks, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Thursday. Australia Reports Deadliest Day of Pandemic With 74 COVID-19 Deaths.

Paul Griffin, infectious diseases physician and microbiologist from the University of Queensland (UQ), explained that the Omicron BA.2 variant seems to spread more rapidly than the original variant, and the actual number of cases in the state could be higher than the testing results.

"Certainly, (the variant BA.2) is increasing. One of the challenges we're facing in Australia at the moment is we've pivoted to using rapid antigen tests more than PCR, so our tracking of the different variants and sub-variants is a little bit limited, compared to what it was previously," Griffin told Xinhua on Friday.

Griffin said although there is no evidence so far showing whether the BA.2 variant is more or less severe, the likely coming back flu in winter could together pose a significant challenge to Australia.

"We are expecting the flu to return certainly greater than it has in recent years, because the travel reductions are less now." Griffin suggests since people are more likely to close windows during winter, the ventilation might be less. Getting fully vaccinated and using masks are still the best precaution measures.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Mar 11, 2022 04:55 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website