Omicron XE: More than 1,100 cases of new Covid variant found in UK

Expert warns strain could become dominant

Boris Johnson won’t rule out new Covid lockdown if more deadly variant emerges

More than 1,100 cases of a new Covid-19 variant, Omicron XE, have been detected in the UK.

The variant appears very transmissible and is likely to become dominant, an expert has warned.

Public health officials said XE is a “recombinant” variant that combines genetic characteristics of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 variants.

A total of 1,179 cases of XE have been confirmed in the UK so far. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the variant was first detected in the UK late in January.

Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, said: “The early signs are that it is going to be very transmissible, so it will probably become the dominant strain again.

“Again, the early signs from elsewhere are that it’s not causing any more serious illness and that the vaccine is protecting people. So even though it will most likely become dominant it hopefully won’t cause any significant problems.”

In a report released last week, the WHO said early tests showed XE could be more transmissible than earlier Omicron subvariants.

It is not thought that the new variant causes different symptoms to those already known to result from Omicron – the most reported of which are running noses, sneezing and sore throats.

The WHO report said: “Early-day estimates indicate a community growth rate advantage of 10 per cent as compared to BA.2, however this finding requires further confirmation.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Monday the most recent data showed XE had a growth rate of 9.8 per cent above BA.2. However, it cautioned that “as this estimate has not remained consistent as new data have been added, it cannot yet be interpreted as an estimate of growth advantage for the recombinant.”

Daily new Covid cases in the UK have dropped after rising steeply during March, but 3.7 million people were still infected at the time of the latest Office for National Statistics review last week.

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