Here’s what we know so far about the two new Covid-19 variants rising across Europe

Written by Amy Beecham

Covid-19 infections are rising across the UK as two new variants surge through Europe. Here’s everything we know so far about Deltacron and Stealth Omicron.       

Since 24 February, when all legal Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in England, overall coronavirus cases in the UK have continued to rise with more than 170,000 new cases reported on 14 March alone.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, called the rise “no particular cause for concern” despite two new Covid-19 variants currently surging across Europe and the rest of the world and the UK heading towards the end of free coronavirus testing on 1 April.

What is causing the latest surge in Covid-19 cases?

New Covid-19 subvariants – Deltacron and Stealth Omicron – are believed to be behind a global surge that has resulted in China’s first deaths in a year, record numbers of infections in South Korea, a 14% jump in cases in Africa and, here in the UK, rising hospital numbers.

“It’s also important for us when we review this to understand why they are rising,” Javid told BBC1’s Breakfast programme. “And that is primarily down to the increased social mixing we are seeing, as our country has opened up, but also the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, which we know is, on the one hand, more infectious, but on the other hand, we know that our vaccines work just as well against this.”

The Deltacron and Stealth Omicron variants are on the rise throughout Europe

What is the Deltacron variant?

As the name suggests, Deltacron is a strain of Covid-19 that is made up of elements from both the previous Delta and Omicron variants.

Around 30 cases have been detected in the UK, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and it appears to have been circulating in Europe since early January.

Analysis suggests it is largely similar to Delta but comes with Omicron’s spike protein – meaning that it combines Delta’s severity with Omicron’s infectiousness.

However, because of growing human immunity to both variants, scientists suggest it is, so far, doing relatively little harm.

What is the Stealth Omicron variant?

This direct sub-lineage of the Omicron variant was first discovered in the UK in December and is currently labelled by the UKHSA as a “variant under investigation” rather than a variant of concern.

However, some experts suggest that it may be the most transmissible strain of coronavirus yet, with Professor Adrian Esterman, a former World Health Organisation epidemiologist tweeting: “The basic reproduction number…for BA.2 is about 12. This makes it pretty close to measles, the most contagious disease we know about.”

Already, Stealth Omicron is thought to account for more than half of all new cases in England and has also been detected in Germany, Denmark, China and India.

In Denmark, it is thought to have caused a huge surge through February which plateaued remarkably quickly and is now receding. What’s more, initial data suggests that the Stealth variant is no deadlier than the original Omicron and just as susceptible to vaccines.

Will the new variants require another vaccine?

Covid-19 vaccines, which are based on the original Wuhan strain of the virus, also protect against severe disease via the more recent variants. The government continues to urge those who have not yet had their first, second or booster dose to come forward for vaccination.

The UK is currently offering spring boosters to people aged 75 and over and those who are immunosuppressed as a precautionary measure around six months on from the initial booster. 75,000 have already booked their fourth dose since the service opened yesterday morning.

While restrictions are lifted and freedoms restored in many countries, there has been a general feeling that the pandemic is over, or that Covid is just something that we “live with” now.

However, the surge in Deltacron and Stealth Omicron serve as an important reminder that new variants can still continue to emerge, even two years after the first Covid-19 cases.

Images: Getty

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