According to the Office for National Statistics, 4.9 million people in Britain, or 1 in 13, were infected with Covid-19 as of March 26 – a record since its survey began in April 2020.
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LONDON – A new omicron subvariant has been detected in the UK as the country faces a further rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations.
The XE variant, as it is called, has so far been detected in 637 patients across the country, according to the latest statistics from the UK Health Security Agency, which said there were currently no enough evidence to draw conclusions about its transmissibility or severity.
XE contains a mix of the previously highly infectious omicron strain BA.1, which emerged in late 2021, and the new “stealth” variant BA.2, currently the dominant variant in the UK.
It’s called a “recombinant,” a type of variant that can occur when an individual is infected with two or more variants at the same time, resulting in a mixture of their genetic material in a patient’s body.
Transmissibility of XE, severity not yet conclusive
Such recombinants are not uncommon, having occurred several times during the coronavirus pandemic.
Data on the severity of the new variant and its ability to evade vaccines are not yet clear, although early estimates suggest it may be more transmissible than previous strains.
UKHSA data shows that XE has a 9.8% higher growth rate than BA.2, while the World Health Organization has so far estimated the figure at 10%.
Health authorities said they continue to monitor the situation.
“This particular recombinant, XE, has shown variable growth rate and we cannot yet confirm whether it has a true growth advantage. So far, there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions on the transmissibility, severity or efficacy of the vaccine,” said the UKHSA’s Chief Medical Adviser Professor. said Susan Hopkins.
The first confirmed case of XE in Britain has a specimen date of January 19 this year, suggesting it could have been circulating in the population for several months. It has also been detected beyond the UK in Thailand.
It comes as the UK faces a new wave of infections. Yet the XE variant currently accounts for less than 1% of the total Covid cases that have undergone genomic sequencing there.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 4.9 million people in Britain, or 1 in 13, were infected with Covid as of March 26 – a record since its survey began in April 2020. Hospitalizations, meanwhile , rose more than 7% in the past week to more than 16,500.
The elderly have proven particularly susceptible to the latest wave amid dwindling booster immunity and the easing of Covid restrictions.
According to Imperial College’s latest React study, an estimated 8.31% of the over-55 age group tested positive by the end of March, nearly 20 times the average prevalence recorded since. the start of the survey in May 2020. Cases in children and young adults, meanwhile, appear to be leveling off.
The results mark the 19th and final cycle of the study as Covid restrictions and monitoring systems are lifted in the UK and beyond.
On Friday, the UK government pushed ahead with plans to end two virus investigations and scale back a third. Meanwhile, Israel and Denmark, two pioneers in research and vaccines at the start of the pandemic, have dramatically reduced testing.
Reduced Covid data could make it harder to predict surges and understand new variants.
It comes as China – itself in the midst of its latest push that saw Shanghai enter an extended lockdown – also recorded a new subvariant titled BA.1.1.
The variant does not match other Covid types sequenced in China or reported to the Global Variant Database, and was found in a mild case of Covid in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai.