Omicron XE Covid variant cases found in UK but ‘too early to tell’ how contagious

The variant is a ‘recombinant’ form of Covid – meaning it was brought together from at least two different viral sources, but UKHSA experts say it’s too early to know if it’s more transmissible than previous versions

Health experts warn of a new Covid variant discovered in the UK
Health experts warn of a new Covid variant discovered in the UK

A new Covid variant found in the UK is more transmissible than previous strains – but it’s too early to know just how contagious it is, health experts have warned.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was looking at variant XE, which is a mutation of Omicron strains BA.1 and BA.2.

It is what is known as “recombinant” – meaning it was formed from at least two other viral sources.

Experts at the UKHSA say it’s too early to know if it’s more transmissible than previous strains like Delta and Omicron.

The body said that as of March 22, 637 cases of XE had been detected in England.

XE currently accounts for only a fraction of all cases


(Getty Images)

That would be just a fraction of the tens of thousands of cases currently being reported every day The Independent has reported.

The UKHSA said initial growth rates for XE were not significantly different from BA.2, Wales Online reports.

However, more recent data up to March 16 showed a rate of nearly 10% over BA.2, which was dubbed the “stealth” Omicron.

It said “since this estimate has not remained consistent as new data have been added, it cannot yet be interpreted as an estimate of the growth advantage for the recombinant.”

“The numbers were too small for the XE recombinant to be analyzed regionally,” the UKHSA said.

Professor Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s Chief Medical Advisor Transition Lead, said recombinant variants were not uncommon.

She added that they usually die off quickly.

“This particular recombinant XE has shown variable growth rate and we cannot yet confirm if it has any real growth advantage,” Ms Hopkins told The Sun.

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

There are currently no statutory Covid restrictions in the UK


(Getty Images)

With no legal restrictions currently in place in England and self-isolation requirements lifted, there have been a record number of people contracting Covid in recent weeks.

The Office for National Statistics said one in 13 people – or 4.9 million – had the virus in the week ended March 26, up from 4.3 million the previous week.

Just days ago, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned the next Covid variant could be worse than Omicron as the virus continues to evolve.

The government’s chief scientific adviser said it was “a mistake” to think the further Covid evolves, the less severe its mutations will be.

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The Omicron variant spread quickly across the UK in the run up to Christmas when the R number was estimated at around 1.3, meaning an average of 13 people were infected for every 10 people.

Sir Patrick said Covid cases may have peaked but there will be more hospitalizations and deaths from this current wave.

Experts believe the vaccines have helped keep the most severe cases at bay.

But Sir Patrick told MPs giving people booster shots every four months is not a “credible” strategy.

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