A descendant of Omicron, Eris, or EG.5.1, was first classified as a variant by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 9 August. It is now the second most prevalent variant in the UK and the most common varient in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The surge in Covid cases comes as estimated numbers jumped by almost 200,000 last month, from 606,656 predicted cases on 4 July to 785,980 on 27 July, according to The Zoe Health Study, which estimates figures for UK Covid infections.
And more recently, 5.4 per cent of 4,396 respiratory specimens reported through the Respiratory DataMart System were identified as Covid-19 up until the week ending on 30 July, according to the UKHSA. This is compared to 3.7 per cent of 4,403 from the previous report.
In the US, Eris made up an estimated 20.6 per cent of new Covid cases during a two-week period ending on 18 August. The US has also seen 12.1 per cent increase in hospital admissions the week ending 22 July, according to CDC tracking.
When was Eris first seen?
According to the UKHSA, Eris was initially raised as a signal in monitoring on 3 July 2023 due to increased reports internationally, particularly in Asia.
In the week beginning 10 July 2023, 11.8 per cent of UK sequences had been classified as Eris (data as of 27 July 2023). The latest data suggests it now accounts for 14.6 per cent of cases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has added EG.5.1 to the list of variants under monitoring.
What are the symptoms?
Eris is a strain of Omicron. According to the ZOE Health Study, the five most common symptoms of Omicron are:
- Runny nose
- Fatigue (mild or severe)
- Sore throat
What do the experts say?
Independent Sage member Prof Christina Pagel told The Independent she believes the UK is “definitely starting another wave” driven by Omicron subvariants, Arcturus and Eris, waning immunity and poor weather.
She said: “The wet weather over the last few weeks probably isn’t helping either as it keeps people inside.”
However, there is a possibility that the spread of the variant may slow down over the summer holidays with schools closed and people travelling abroad.
“It is likely to be dominant by September when kids return to school and adults to work or university, plus we start spending much more time inside,” she said.
The Covid expert added that “most people are now over 18 months from their last vaccine” and the majority of people are also “ several months out from their last infection too”. Thus, we could see the wave “grow faster” in September.
But head of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, Professor Azeem Majeed downplayed the concerns about the Eris variant.
“I don’t feel that people should be unduly worried by the recent increase in Covid-19 cases. Case numbers will fluctuate and there will be periods when the number of cases in the UK increases,” he told The Independent.
He said that EG.5.1 is a version of the Omicron variant that appeared in the UK at the end of 2021, and WHO has designated EG.5 as a variant under monitoring (VUM) but not as a variant of concern (VOC).
“This means we need to continue to monitor EG.5.1 to see what impact it has on outcome such as the number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths,” he added.
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