Cases of Covid-19 have dramatically risen by 50 per cent over the past 10 days as the new "Kraken" variant gains momentum. 11 per cent of cases on January 16 were accounted for by XBB1.5 - a sublineage of Omicron - as it doubled its presence in Britain in the first fortnight of 2023 according to data from the GISAID.
This comes after the "Kraken" strain started spreading at concerning rates in the US. Cases of the virus in America hiked from 12 per cent to 42 in only three weeks, the Express reports. Experts believe the new variant will be more contagious when it spread more quickly, which means the strain could threaten to spark a new wave of the virus in the winter.
Previously speaking to Express.co.uk, Dr Stephen Griffin, an Associate Professor at the Leeds Institute of Medical Research, explained: “The strain is not only better at infecting per se, it is better at evading our defences when doing so. This gives it a big advantage over its predecessors (mainly BQ1.1), as we are seeing in the US and now here.
“This could mean that we see a more rapid expansion of yet another wave of infection compared to what we would have otherwise had, as there may be many more people that are more susceptible to infection with this virus – much like we have seen with influenza. More infections will necessarily lead to more severe disease, as well as adding to the dreadful toll of long COVID, which can happen following even a mild disease course.
"Whether this virus is also inherently more virulent on a case by case basis remains to be seen, and can be difficult to immediately tease out in highly vaccinated populations like the US and the UK.”
This news arrives despite hopes at first that there would be span of lower infection levels and suspicions that the strain may not spread as rapidly as was initially feared. It serves as a reminder of the sheer infectiousness of the disease, as just nine days ago symptomatic cases had fallen below 100,000, whereas the latest figures from the ZOE Health Study reveal that cases have risen by 45 per cent to 123,265 on Saturday.
Professor Danny Altmann, of Imperial College London, is concerned that the Kraken variant is responsible for the latest surge. He said: “I’m concerned that with XBB.1.5 we have another increment in transmissibility and immune evasiveness, and our complacent reliance on established immunity may be misplaced. We continue to be in uncharted territory.”
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, said: “We can expect fluctuations in Covid infections from the circulation of more infectious variants such as XBB.1.5. There is also the impact of waning immunity, particularly as only 64.5 percent of those aged 50 and over have received the autumn booster.”
The variant is a mutated version of Omicron XBB, which was detected in Singapore, India and 33 other nations back in October, according to the World Health Service.
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