Covid-19 variant XBB.1.5 is more transmissible and could be behind rising UK cases suggests UKHSA
Covid-related hospital admissions are on the rise again as officials confirm a new variant of the virus is now taking hold.
Latest figures reveal the current hospital admission rate for England is 6.61 per 100,000 people up from 5.94 the previous week while case numbers are now also rising.
Admission rates for coronavirus are currently highest in the south east, where a rate of 8.67 has been recorded, while latest figures from the Zoe study suggest daily symptomatic cases have also leapt by close to 60% in a fortnight and could now number 63,000 new instances a day.
A new Covid variant - XBB.1.5 - also nicknamed the 'Kraken' after a character in Scandinavian folklore - could be contributing to the surge with the UK Health Security Agency confirming this week that numbers of the Omicron-descendent are rising along with another known as CH.1.1 they are also paying close attention to.
The new subvariant XBB.1.5 first came to the attention of health officials worldwide at the tail end of last year when the number of infections by late December in America were doubling each week.
According to reports on the other side of the Atlantic it is estimated XBB.1.5 is also spreading more than twice as fast as most other variants currently in circulation.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), explained: "It’s concerning that the recent downward trend in Covid-19 hospitalisations has started to show signs of a reverse this week.
"Two variants, CH.1.1 and XBB.1.5 have a growth advantage in the UK and we can expect further increases in transmission and hospitalisations in future weeks.
There are suggestions XBB.1.5, should it continue to grow at its current rate, may become the dominant strain in the UK as early as the end of the month.
With testing having been scaled back in many countries over the last year, the true number of cases connected to this new variant could be hard to determine but those studying XBB.1.5 believe it has an unusual mutation helping it spread and making it harder for the antibodies people have gained from either vaccination or a previous Covid-19 vaccination to successfully attack the virus.
Both mean people encountering a case of XBB.1.5 are more likely to fall ill, get reinfected and show symptoms they then pass onto others.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London and founder of the Zoe app, said earlier in the year this new variant 'could be the one to watch' and he too confirmed this week that cases were bouncing back after an estimated 15-month low.
He explained: "We are seeing a big increase in the last week. Rates are starting to come up again. February will be quite different to January."
While there is no current evidence to show this new Covid-19 variant is more deadly, hospital admissions will continue to rise if increasing numbers of people are infected.
The UK Health Security Agency is appealing to those who are unwell to not visit the vulnerable or go into work - with parents also being encouraged to keep children at home if they too appear under the weather. People who do have to go out when unwell are asked to consider wearing a face covering.