Home Health news Covid variant XBB.1.5 already makes up HALF of cases in worst-hit places…has it reached YOUR area?

Covid variant XBB.1.5 already makes up HALF of cases in worst-hit places…has it reached YOUR area?

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Covid variant XBB.1.5 already makes up HALF of cases in worst-hit places…has it reached YOUR area?

A new Omicron subvariant that is starting to sweep the UK is behind up to half of all Covid cases in the worst-hit regions, surveillance data suggests.

Figures from the Sanger Institute, one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres, shows 50 per cent of cases in Wirral last week were caused by XBB.1.5, nicknamed the Kraken.

The strain has caused a surge of cases in the US, with some experts concerned that its mutations could see it trigger a similar spike in the UK by dodging the wall of immunity built up from previous waves and vaccine roll-outs.

It comes as UK ministers rush to bring in testing rules ahead of an expected influx of travellers from China, which is being crippled by its biggest surge since the pandemic began, with hospitals and crematoriums filling up.

Figures from the Sanger Institute, one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres, show XBB.1.5 was spotted nine times in the week to December 17. Five of the cases were spotted in Wirral in Merseyside, where scientists estimate it is behind 50 per cent of cases. One XBB.1.5 sample was sequenced in Stroke-on-Trent, where 20 per cent of cases are thought to be caused by the strain. Telford and Wrekin in Shropshire (11 per cent), Tower Hamlets in London (50 per cent) and Cornwall (33 per cent) all each reported one strain caused by the Omicron sub-variant

Figures from the Sanger Institute, one of the UK's largest Covid surveillance centres, shows 4 per cent of cases in the week to December 17 were caused by XBB.1.5 (shown in purple, bottom right corner)

Figures from the Sanger Institute, one of the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centres, shows 4 per cent of cases in the week to December 17 were caused by XBB.1.5 (shown in purple, bottom right corner)

December 17 marked the first time XBB.1.5 was listed on the institute's virus dashboard, which is updated weekly

December 17 marked the first time XBB.1.5 was listed on the institute’s virus dashboard, which is updated weekly

NHS hospitals have been ordered to sequence positive swabs from infected travellers from China over concerns a mutant variant will emerge 

The UK Health Security Agency is stepping-up its Covid sequencing for hospitalised patients who have travelled to Britain from China over concerns a mutant variant will emerge. 

China is battling is biggest outbreak since the pandemic began, with some estimates suggesting that it is experiencing one million cases and 5,000 deaths per day, with hospitals and crematoriums overwhelmed. 

The nation has stopped sharing data on daily Covid cases and deaths and is only sharing a low level of sequencing data.

While travel from China to the UK is ‘currently low’ it is ‘likely to increase’ next week in response to Beijing lifting quarantine requirements for returning travellers, the UKHSA said.

Available genome data from China and other countries testing arrivals from the nation suggests Omicron sub-variants — including those already circulating in Europe — are spreading.

But leaders remain concerned that a new variant will emerge from the surge in cases that evades the immune response — which could ‘pose a threat’.

In a bid to stay ahead of worrying strains, the UKHSA has told hospitals to inform it of any Covid patients who have been to China in the previous two weeks, conduct a PCR test and alert laboratories to the case.

In a letter, sent by UKHSA chief medical advisor Professor Susan Hopkins, the agency’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Thomas Waite and NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Power, labs were told to send any swabs from travellers from China to the UKHSA for ‘expedited sequencing’.

Sanger Institute data, based on hundreds of samples, shows 4.3 per cent of cases in the week to December 17 were caused by XBB.1.5.

It is the first time the strain has been listed on the institute’s virus dashboard, which is updated weekly. 

Overall, the strain was spotted nine times that week.

Five of the cases were spotted in Wirral in Merseyside, where scientists estimate it is behind 50 per cent of cases.

One XBB.1.5 sample was sequenced in Stroke-on-Trent, where 20 per cent of cases are thought to be caused by the strain.

Telford and Wrekin in Shropshire (11 per cent), Tower Hamlets in London (50 per cent) and Cornwall (33 per cent) all each reported one case caused by the Omicron sub-variant.

The Sanger Institute notes that the number of samples it sequences has reduced since April 1 2022 — when free tests were scrapped in England. 

And its data does not include all Covid swabs which are sequenced across the UK, meaning there may be extra cases not included in its figures. 

Some scientists are concerned about XBB.1.5 due to its mutations, including F486P, which helps it to bypass Covid-fighting antibodies that were generated in response to vaccination or previous infection.

Another change — S486P — is thought to improve its ability to bind to cells. 

The strain, which is thought to have emerged in the US, is a mutated version of Omicron XBB, which was first detected in India in August. 

XBB, which is a merger of variants BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75, caused cases to quadruple in just one month in some nations. 

Real-world data also shows how the strain is currently sweeping the US.

Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday showed that the strain is behind 41 per cent of cases. The figure is up from 22 per cent one week earlier and 4 per cent one month earlier.

And US Covid hospitalisation shows admissions jumped 40 per cent in the month to December 28.

The rise is even more stark in the over-70s, with 52 per cent more seeking hospital care on that day, compared to one month earlier.

However, CDC officials insist that there is ‘no suggestion’ the virus is more severe — although they say it is set to become dominant in some regions within weeks and will become more prevalent across the country. 

XBB.1.5 has also been spotted in countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland, Australia, Singapore and India.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, told MailOnline that the emergence of the strain is a ‘wakeup call’ and could exacerbate the NHS crisis in Britain.

More than a dozen NHS trusts have declared critical incidents amid rising rates of Covid and flu, staff shortages and too few beds. The unprecedented pressure is expected to last until Easter — with hours-long ambulance queues and thousands of operations getting cancelled. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that the majority of new variants ‘fizzle out in a few weeks’.

However, the sharp increase in XBB.1.5’s prevalence is ‘certainly very worrying’ and suggests ‘a pretty dramatic growth advantage and enough to drive a new wave of infections’, he said. 

The Our World in Data graph shows the number of Covid cases logged daily, on average, in the UK (pink) and US (black) per million people. It shows the UK recorded 97 on December 27, while the US reported 183. However, the figures only reflect positive tests that are reported, so underestimate the true scale of infections

The Our World in Data graph shows the number of Covid cases logged daily, on average, in the UK (pink) and US (black) per million people. It shows the UK recorded 97 on December 27, while the US reported 183. However, the figures only reflect positive tests that are reported, so underestimate the true scale of infections 

The graph shows the proportion of cases each week that are caused by each variant, according to surveillance data. It suggests that prevalence of XBB.1.5 jumped from 22 per cent to more than 40 per cent in just one week

The graph shows the proportion of cases each week that are caused by each variant, according to surveillance data. It suggests that prevalence of XBB.1.5 jumped from 22 per cent to 41 per cent in just one week 

US virus hospitalisations jumped 40 per cent in the month to December 28, from 1.2 to 1.7 admissions per 100,000 people

US virus hospitalisations jumped 40 per cent in the month to December 28, from 1.2 to 1.7 admissions per 100,000 people

Latest Covid daily admission data shows nearly 1,300 people infected with the virus were hospitalised on December 19. The figure is up by a third week-on-week

Latest Covid daily admission data shows nearly 1,300 people infected with the virus were hospitalised on December 19. The figure is up by a third week-on-week

The number of people infected with Covid taking up beds in wards across England soared above 8,600 on December 21, the latest data available shows. The figure has jumped 29 per cent in a week

The number of people infected with Covid taking up beds in wards across England soared above 8,600 on December 21, the latest data available shows. The figure has jumped 29 per cent in a week

However, not all experts are so concerned. 

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist based at the University of Reading, told MailOnline that while XBB.1.5’s ability to evade immunity has only been observed in the lab.

‘So it’s difficult to know how this will translate into real life,’ he noted.

While hospitalisations in the US are rising in many regions, ‘the presence of this variant doesn’t seem to be responsible for that’, Dr Clarke said.

Also, it doesn’t seem to be causing more serious disease than other circulating variants, which are the most important metrics to watch when tracking Covid, he said.

It comes as travellers from China will need to show a negative Covid test before they fly to the UK from Thursday. 

China is battling is biggest outbreak since the pandemic began, with some estimates suggesting that it is experiencing one million cases and 5,000 deaths per day, with hospitals and crematoriums overwhelmed. 

Officials are concerned the surge will see a new mutant variant emerge. 

The nation has stopped sharing data on daily Covid cases and deaths and is only sharing a low level of sequencing data.

As well as pre-departure tests, the UK will also be offering optional random testing on arrival with samples checked for signs of new variants.

But ministers are facing a backlash from some MPs after it emerged passengers from China who test positive on arrival will not be forced to self-isolate. 

In another bid to spot troublesome variants, the UK Health Security Agency today revealed plans to step-up its Covid sequencing among travellers from China. 

While travel from China to the UK is ‘currently low’ it is ‘likely to increase’ next week in response to Beijing lifting quarantine requirements for returning travellers, the UKHSA said.

Available genome data from China and other countries testing arrivals from the nation suggests Omicron sub-variants — including those already circulating in Europe — are spreading.

But leaders remain concerned that a new variant will emerge from the surge in cases that evades the immune response — which could ‘pose a threat’.

In a bid to stay ahead of worrying strains, the UKHSA has told hospitals to inform it of any Covid patients who have been to China in the previous two weeks, conduct a PCR test and alert laboratories to the case.

In the letter, sent by UKHSA chief medical advisor Professor Susan Hopkins, the agency’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Thomas Waite and NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Power, labs were told to send any swabs from travellers from China to the UKHSA for ‘expedited sequencing’.

In other health news…

Return of the MASKS: Health chiefs urge people to wear face coverings and say anyone feeling ill should ‘stay at home’ in echo of pandemic era – as medics claim the NHS is under more pressure than at the height of Covid

Travellers from China who test positive for Covid will NOT have to self-isolate despite fears country’s virus chaos may spawn new doomsday variant after wake-up call of the ‘Kraken’ XBB

NEW Covid variant XBB.1.5 that is already behind one in 25 cases in the UK is a ‘wakeup call’ and could worsen the NHS crisis, experts warn   

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