New Omicron variant XE found in UK but ‘too soon to say’ how contagious it is

Hundreds of cases of ‘XE’ have been detected in England but experts still investigating level of risk

Omicron variant: What we know so far

A new Covid variant has been found in the UK but experts say it’s too soon to know if it is more transmissible than previous strains.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSCA) said it was studying XE - a mutation of the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron strains, referred to as a "recombinant".

The government body said that, as of 22 March, 637 cases of XE had been detected in England, only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of Covid cases being reported every day since restrictions were lifted.

Early growth rates for XE werenot significantly different from BA.2 - also known as ‘Stealth’ Omicron.

But using the most recent data up to 16 March 2022, it now had a growth rate 9.8 per cent above that of the stealth variant, the UKHSCA said.

Susan Hopkins has been speaking about the new sub-variant (Dan Kitwood/PA)

The body cautioned though 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."

"Numbers were too small for the XE recombinant to be analysed by region," the UKHSCA said.

Professor Susan Hopkins, the UKHSA's chief medical advisor transition lead, said that recombinant variants are not uncommon and usually die off "relatively quickly".

“This particular recombinant, XE, has shown a variable growth rate and we cannot yet confirm whether it has a true growth advantage," Ms Hopkins told The Sun.

“So far there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about transmissibility, severity or vaccine effectiveness.”

Hospitalisations for Covid are on the up again in England (PA Graphics)

The UKHSA report added: “XE shows evidence of community transmission within England, although it is currently less than one per cent of total sequenced cases.”

A record number of people in the UK had Covid in the past week, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics said one in every 13 people - or 4.9 million - had the virus in the week ending 26 March. This is up from 4.3 million in the previous week.

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