Health experts have sounded the alarm after the discovery of a new mutation of the Omicron coronavirus variant in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has been hit by its worst Covid-19 wave to date, recording the world's highest coronavirus death rate.
Dr Chalermchai Boonyaleephan, deputy chairman of a Senate committee on public health, posted on Blockdit that Omicron has mutated into three subvariants (BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3).
He wrote that the number of infections and deaths in Hong Kong has reached a record high which has coincided with the emergence of the BA.2.2 subvariant.
He said that high numbers of cases make mutation more likely as the chances of deviation during the virus' replication are multiplied.
There are currently about 5,000 infections and 30 deaths per million people in Hong Kong each week. That figure dwarfs Thailand's 315 cases and 0.85 deaths, he posted.
Despite the larger number of cases, the mortality rate is also higher for those infected with BA.2.2, as apparently evidenced by the current situation in Hong Kong, he wrote.
''It is necessary to keep a close watch on the situation,'' he posted.
The Centre for Medical Genomics at Mahidol University, also in a Facebook post, shared the view that the recent outbreak in Hong Kong could have resulted in the BA.2.2 subvariant.
Most of the deaths in Hong Kong remain among the elderly and unvaccinated, the centre posted, adding the new subvariant has yet to be found in Thailand.
However, Supakit Sirilak, director-general of the Department of Medical Sciences, told the Bangkok Post on Sunday that the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (Gisaid), the leading database on genomic influenza data, had yet to officially confirm the BA.2.2 as a new variant or cause of the higher tolls in Hong Kong.
"Currently, Gisaid has not accepted it. [BA 2.2] has only been referred to as such among Hong Kong scientists," he said.
"Actually, another variant named BA.2.3 is found in the Philippines and is much more common than BA.2.2.
"To declare a new variant, the process takes time and needs to meet a set of criteria -- the rate at which it spreads, its severity and its ability to evade immunity," said Dr Supakit.
"If you can recall the cases of Deltacron [a variant that contains elements of Delta and Omicron] in Cyprus.
"Gisaid immediately brought it to [global] attention after 14 cases were detected.
"However, it was later proven to be incorrect, and ever since Gisaid has been more cautious before declaring a new variant," he added.
He added that currently there are five variants recognised by Gisaid although Omicron still accounts for 90% of new cases.
Thailand logged 23,584 more new cases and a further 66 deaths during the previous 24 hours, the Public Health Ministry said on Sunday.
The 2,967 new infections in the capital led the rest of the country, with Nakhon Si Thammarat logging 1,438, Chon Buri 1,191, Samut Prakan 890, Nonthaburi 868 and Samut Sakhon 809.
Meanwhile, a poll conducted on 1,320 people between March 7-9 found a majority were highly concerned over the spread of the Omicron variant due to the high risk it poses for the elderly and people with underlying diseases.
The survey in which three-quarters of respondents admitted they were either "concerned" or "very concerned" by the variant was conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration, or Nida Poll.