Covid-19: New Omicron variant XE discovered in the UK

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UK health authorities have yet to determine how much more contagious the new Omikron variant XE is compared to previous strains of Covid-19.

A new strain of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been discovered in the United Kingdom. According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), it is too early to determine the rate of spread of the XE variant.

Insufficient evidence

The United Kingdom reported a surge in Covid cases in recent weeks. As of March 22, there were 637 new cases of the XE mutant. UKHSA data show that most patients have occurred in London, eastern and southeastern England.

Although this number represents only a small proportion of reported covid cases, initial studies suggest that the XE variant has a 9.8 percent growth rate over the stealth variant, previously considered the most contagious.

According to UKHSA, studies are underway to learn more about this recombinant variant – a mutation of the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron strains. Prof. Susan Hopkins, the senior medical advisor at UKHSA, explains:

This particular recombination, XE, has shown a variable growth rate, and we cannot yet confirm whether it has a natural growth advantage. So far, there is not enough evidence to conclude the vaccine’s transmissibility, severity, or efficacy.

No cause for alarm

According to the UKHSA, while not much is known about the transmission rate, severity, or effectiveness of the XE variant “vaccine,” recombinants such as this are pretty common and often die off quickly. Prof. Hopkins elaborates:

Recombinant variants are not unusual, especially when multiple variants are circulating, and several have been identified during the pandemic. As with other types of variants, most die out relatively quickly.

Nevertheless, the UKHSA adds to evidence of population transmission in England, albeit in less than one percent of sequenced cases in the region.

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