Arcturus: How many cases of new variant are in UK?

Arcturus has been detected in 22 countries

Eleanor Noyce
Thursday 20 April 2023 08:27 BST
Arcturus: What is the new Covid variant causing a surge in cases

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A new Covid strain dubbed Arcturus which is driving a surge of infections in India has been detected in the UK.

First identified in January, Arcturus - also known as Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16 - has been monitored by the World Health Organisation since 22 March.

It has been detected in 22 countries, including in the UK, US and India, and research suggests that the strain could be 1.2 times more infectious than the last major sub-variant.

The new strain is suspected to be behind a growing number of cases in India, with health authorities in Delhi recording 11,109 new Covid infections on Friday.

Although Arcturus has been detected in the UK, it is not spreading on the same scale - with the UKHSA saying that 66 cases have been recorded up to 11 April.

Comparatively, 57,842 overall Covid infections were recorded in the week up to Thursday, a 20 per cent drop from the previous seven days.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it is not unexpected for new variants to emerge and emphasised the importance of vaccination.

Research suggests that the strain could be 1.2 times more infectious than the last major Covid sub-variant
Research suggests that the strain could be 1.2 times more infectious than the last major Covid sub-variant (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

"It is not unexpected to see new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge. UKHSA continues to analyse all available data relating to SARS-CoV-2 variants in the UK and abroad and is monitoring the situation closely”, a UKHSA spokesperson told The Independent.

"Vaccination remains our best defence against future Covid-19 waves, so it is still as important as ever that people come take up all the doses for which they are eligible as soon as possible."

One University of Warwick virologist told The Independent this week that the rise of the new variant shows that “we’re not yet out of the woods”.

“We have to keep an eye on it,” Professor Lawrence Young said. “When a new variant arises you have to find out if it’s more infectious, more disease-causing, is it more pathogenic? And what’s going to happen in terms of immune protection?

“These kinds of things highlight the importance of genomic surveillance but a lot of countries including our own have let our guards down a bit and we can’t be sure what variants are around and what level of infection they’re causing until we see a significant outbreak.”

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