Deltacron Covid-19 variant identified in Europe as the WHO says it's concerned about countries scaling back testing
Deltacron has been identified as the latest new Covid-19 variant.
Just weeks before England will scale back its mass testing programme for everyone but some health workers and the most vulnerable, a new strain of the virus is already thought to be in circulation – but how much do experts know about the risk it might pose?
What is Deltacron?
Deltacron – as the name suggests – is a coronavirus variant which is carrying genes from both the Delta and Omicron strains of Covid-19 which are two strains already in circulation both in the UK and around the world.
Known as a recombinant virus, Deltacron arises when more than one variant of coronavirus infects the same cells of somebody at the same time.
Where has it been found?
Deltacron is now thought to have been circulating across the Channel in France, possibly since the start of the year. There have also been a number of cases identified in the US, with that figure expected to rise, and in Denmark and the Netherlands too.
The UK Health Security Agency says so far one case of Deltacron has been identified in the UK in an individual unlucky enough to catch both strains of the virus at the same time. But more are likely to be circulating – with the i newspaper reporting that health experts are expected to confirm this week more instances of person-to-person transmission of Deltacron cases in this country.
What appears to be less clear is whether every patient who has been identified so far as having Deltacron is carrying the exact same make-up of the new secondary hybrid strain or whether they've taken different aspects of the two main strains at the point they are infected.
But Covid cases are now on the rise again. The Health Secretary Sajid Javid says a rise in coronavirus infections is to be expected following the easing of restrictions in England but with more infections circulating in the community the risk of people unfortunately catching two strains at once is therefore also naturally increased.
What's the concern?
The concern with any new Covid-19 variants, as there was when Omicron emerged last year, is that they have the power and potential to derail the country's vaccination programme by evading people's existing immunity.
As a result of a highly vaccinated population, with millions of people having been given two Covid jabs and a booster, combined with immunity developed through previous infection, the government has felt the country is in a strong enough position to at the moment peel back its final restrictions despite the risk of new variants developing.
And with substantial immunity against the Delta and Omicron strains, as they both continue to spread through the population, scientists watching the emergence of Deltacron hope a combination of the two viruses will not pose a danger to the vaccines already in existence.
But the World Health Organisation has issued a strong word of caution.
Confirming that cases of Deltracron have been identified in Europe, the WHO has expressed concern at those nations planning to scale back coronavirus testing regimes because of the impact it will have on the ability to identify new variants in circulation.
This includes England, which intends to abandon routine testing for all but the most vulnerable and some health workers from April 1 under the Government plans for 'Living with Covid', with Scotland and Wales also expected to wind down their testing plans over the coming months albeit at a slower pace than that outlined by ministers in Westminster.
WHO president Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "The WHO is concerned that several countries are drastically reducing testing.
"This inhibits our ability to see where the virus is, how it's spreading and how it's evolving. Testing remains a vital tool in our fight against the pandemic."