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‘Highly infectious’ new Covid variant is ‘wakeup call’ for UK

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New data shows that the new “highly infectious” Covid strain is responsible for one in 25 cases of the virus in the UK. The new variant has been labelled XBB.1.5 and has seen hospitalisations quickly rise in the United States.

The US has seen cases rise as the new variant has quickly spread with it being behind four in ten cases, up from two in ten just a week ago.

Experts have told the MailOnline than the NHS crisis is set to worsen under the new strain as the health service tackles both Covid and flu.

This winter is the worst on record for the NHS with backlogs, delays and worker strikes over pay and conditions.

The new variant has been called a “wakeup call” for the UK by experts who have observed the variant’s growth in the US.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University told MailOnline: “The XBB.1.5 variant is highly infectious and is driving increased hospital admissions in New York, particularly among the elderly.

“Waning immunity, more indoor mixing because of the cold weather and lack of other mitigations, such as wearing facemasks, are also contributing to this surge of infection in the US.”

Officials have declared that there is no data to show that the strain is worse or causing more severe illness than previous variants.

The antibodies which were formed as a result of vaccinations or previous infections have been bypassed by XBB.1.5 and its mutations including F486P.

It is thought that another mutation of XBB.1.5 called S486P it more capable at binding to cells.

The Sanger Institute is one of the UK’s largest Covid observation centres and its data has revealed that four percent of cases in the UK in the week of December 17 were XBB.1.5.

The new strain has been added to the virus dashboard from the Sanger Institute which it updates every week.

Omicron XBB was initially detected in India in August and XBB.1.5 has come from this variant.

Omicron XBB is made up of the combination of the BJ.1 variant and BA.2.75 which saw cases quadruple double in a month in some countries.

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Speaking about XBB.1.5, Professor Young said: “We don’t know how this variant is going to behave in the UK in a population that has been previously exposed to other Omicron variants and where many of the over 50s have had booster shots with a bivalent vaccine.

“Nevertheless, this is a wakeup call – a sharp reminder that we can’t be complacent about Covid.”

He added: “The threat of XBB.1.5 and other Covid variants further exacerbating the current NHS crisis stresses the need for us to remain vigilant.

“We need to continue to monitor levels of infection with different variants in the UK, encourage those who are eligible to get their boosters shots – why not extend this to under 50s? – and promote the value of other mitigation measures.”

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