In the United Kingdom, a novel omicron sub-variant has been discovered as the country continues to see an increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations.
According to the latest numbers from the UK Health Security Agency, the XE variation has been found in 637 patients across the country, with the agency stating that there is presently insufficient information to draw conclusions on its transmissibility or severity.
XE combines the previously highly infectious omicron BA.1 strain, which first appeared in late 2021, with the newer “stealth” BA.2 variety, which is currently the prevalent variant in the United Kingdom.
It’s a “recombinant,” a form of variant that occurs when an individual is infected with two or more variants at the same time, causing their genetic material to mix within the patient’s body.
Recombinants like this aren’t rare; they happened numerous times during the coronavirus outbreak.
The severity of the new variety and its capacity to avoid immunizations are unknown at this time, while early estimates suggest it may be more transmissible than previous strains.
According to UKHSA data, XE has a growth rate 9.8 per cent higher than BA.2, whereas the World Health Organization has put the figure at 10 per cent so far.
The situation is still being monitored, according to health officials.
“This particular recombinant, XE, has shown a 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 about transmissibility, severity or vaccine effectiveness,” UKHSA’s chief medical advisor professor Susan Hopkins said.
The earliest confirmed XE case in the United Kingdom was on January 19 of this year, implying that the virus had been circulating in the public for several months. It has also been found in Thailand, outside of the United Kingdom.
It comes as the United Kingdom is experiencing a new wave of infections. Despite this, the XE variation is found in less than 1 per cent of all Covid cases that have been subjected to genomic sequencing.
According to the Office for National Statistics, Covid had infected 4.9 million people in the UK, or one in every thirteen, as of March 26 – a new high since the survey began in April 2020. In the meantime, hospitalizations have increased by more than 7% in the last week, to over 16,500.
Due to diminishing booster immunity and loosening Covid limits, older persons have been particularly vulnerable to the latest outbreak.
According to the latest React study from Imperial College, an estimated 8.31% of over-55s tested positive as of the end of March, about 20 times the average prevalence reported since the survey began in May 2020. Meanwhile, the number of cases among children and young adults appears to be levelling off.
As Covid limitations and surveillance systems are undone in the United Kingdom and beyond, the findings mark the 19th and final iteration of the study.
On Friday, the British government announced intentions to end two viral surveys and reduce back a third.
Meanwhile, Israel and Denmark, two early leaders in pandemic research and vaccine development, have drastically reduced testing.
The reduction in Covid data could make predicting spikes and understanding novel variants more challenging.
It comes as China, which is in the midst of its newest surge, which has seen Shanghai go into lockdown for many days, has also discovered a new subvariant known as BA.1.1.
The variant was discovered in a moderate Covid case in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, and did not match other Covid types sequenced in China or submitted to the worldwide variant database.
(Adapted from CNBC.com)