Omicron XBB.1.5: new Covid variant ‘one to watch out for’ this year after cases surge, expert warns
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Omicron XBB.1.5 cases more than doubled across the United States in just a week

A new Omicron subvariant of Covid-19 could be “one to watch out for” this year, a leading health expert has warned.

Cases of the XBB.1.5 variant have more than doubled in the United States in just a week and it now accounts for more than 40% of Covid cases in America, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases.

US scientist Eric Topol shared the data in a post on Twitter and warned that the new strain is out-competing all other coronavirus variants as he urged the CDC to take note.

The XBB.1.5 variant is a mutated version of Omicron XBB, which was first detected in India in August last year, and it has since been found in at least 74 countries, according to which uses data from the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID). The UK, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Australia are among the countries where the variant has been detected.

Studies have found that the variant is capable of evading antibodies from previous Covid infection or vaccination, but it has not yet been listed as a variant of concern by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Just 4% of all Covid cases in the UK were the XBB 1.5 variant, according to figures from Cambridge’s Sanger Institute for the week to 17 December. However, Tim Spector, founder of the ZOE Covid app and professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, has warned that the variant could be “one to watch this year”.

In response to Mr Topol’s tweet showing cases of XBB.1.5 had more than doubled in the US in a week, he wrote: “XBB could be the new variant to watch out for 2023”.

‘Stay at home’ and ‘don’t visit vulnerable unless it’s urgent’

The warning about the new variant comes as the UKHSA has issued fresh advice urging people to stay at home if they feel unwell amid a rise in Covid, flu and Strep A cases.

Officials have said the NHS is facing “intolerable” pressures as it grapples with staff shortages and high demand exacerbated by flu and Covid, prompting more than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services to declare critical incidents over the festive period.

Patients are facing long waits for treatment and delayed ambulances, while thousands of beds are being taken up by medically-fit people who should not be there, according to health officials.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine claims that somewhere between 300 and 500 people are dying each week as a result of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care.


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